Literally, speaking–Redux: media professionals and teachers don’t help

When I wrote yesterday, I had in my mind the unacceptably high number of Jamaicans who had not benefitted from learning the fundamentals of the official language. My compassion was driven by what I see in play, daily. Many Jamaicans may not feel burdened, but are at a severe disadvantage within Jamaica and also compared with many abroad when it comes to bidding for jobs. That drag on employment prospects is at the front of my mind. Our high illiteracy is a major impediment to our raising labour productivity.

But, the problem of the general population is worsened by failings in places where we would not expect to see illiteracy or poor grammar on a regular basis–in the education sector and in the mainstream media. We expect teachers to know, and even if not majoring in English, we often assume skills in that area are higher than average; that may be an unfair assumption, however. Likewise, we expect the wordsmiths of our society to be also high on the pole of those who have mastered the official language. But, I find in Jamaica that those are wrong assumptions more often than I think is acceptable. Just look at what hit me at random today:

‘That, essentially, was what was expected to happen in Tivoli Gardens after to 2010 operation to route strongman and gang leader, Christopher Coke.’

That sentence is from today’s Editorial in The Gleaner. Can you spot the errors?

Let me help: ‘after to’ should read ‘after the’; ‘route’ (a course taken) should read ‘rout’ (retreat of defeated unit). 

Is it reasonable that a national media publication produced by people trained in communications should make such mistakes? Who is responsible for quality control? Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 5.35.54 AMIf the quality oversight is poor in the main part of the publication that expresses the paper’s opinions can we expect it to be higher elsewhere in the routine reporting?

I often utter a huge guffaw when various mainstream media practitioners try to argue about the higher quality of mainstream media professionals (often demeaning many who are in the world of newer communications, like bloggers, like me). My reaction is not pure defensiveness–and I do not see pure self-service on their part–but based on the rigour that I had to go through daily in my written and oral communication, and which formed how I always approach what I do. I have no supervisor, so have to rely on a tough attitude towards my own mistakes. I am no saint, but I’m far from a sinner in this area. So, I take great pleasure is find and pointing out the kind of error I saw this morning.

But my pleasure is muted. Those who do not know what is wrong will inevitably repeat that error. Admitted, it’s not realistic for a newspaper to be reprinted. In the world of electronic media, the digital version can be corrected, so The Gleaner online version, which I read earlier this morning could realistically be expected to be corrected later today. I pointed out the errors in the online comments; let’s see what happens.

I got a communication from school yesterday that was full of grammatical howlers; I see them often. But, as the school year comes to an end, I thought it would helpful to gently point out that I thought it reflected poorly on the school. They accepted my point, and pointed out some slips in their quality control. But, I don’t want my child using such communications as their guide, which they will because ‘Teacher knows best’ in the school arena.

If I seem pedantic in these concerns, fine. I have the luxury of being able to spot what’s wrong and also enough sad memories of what it can mean if one lets them go uncorrected.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

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