Author Topic: The broadsheets’ improved English might put finis to my media watch  (Read 4109 times)

Joe Carillo

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What can I say?

I’ve gone over today’s and yesterday’s issues (January 21-22, 2010) of the four major Metro Manila broadsheets and, as was the case last week, I couldn’t find any major English grammar and usage error in their major stories—not the instructive kind that’s worth discussing here anyway. For some unknown but most welcome reason, their reporters and desk editors seem to be in their best English-language behavior these days. Their major news and feature stories are decidedly much better-written and better-edited than those of previous months. Indeed, at the rate the major broadsheets are becoming almost grammar-perfect in their English, they just might put My Media English Watch out of business before long.

Just thinking aloud, if only the major broadsheets would be as diligent in improving the English of their less earthshaking news and feature stories, I probably won’t be able to dish out anymore even the usual short takes in my media English watch. From the looks of it, though, that time has not yet come…

SHORT TAKES IN MY MEDIA ENGLISH WATCH:   

(1) Philippine Inquirer: Four grammar errors all in a row

Sidebar story: Why Quezon City cops failed to find and arrest Ivler

“MANILA, Philippines—Despite of two raids and 24-hour surveillance by three tracker teams, Quezon city policemen still failed to arrest Filipino-American Jason Ivler, the suspect in the road rage killing of the son of a Malacañang official.

“It took two months and a 50-man team from the National Bureau of Investigation to pin down one of the country’s most wanted fugitives, who turned out to be hiding right inside their home in Blue Ridge Subdivision, Quezon City.”

The lead passage above has four notable grammar flaws:
(a)   Wrong form of preposition – The preposition “despite of” is in the wrong form. It should be “despite” only, without the “of.” The alternative form for that preposition that correctly uses “of” is “in spite of.” Both of them mean “in defiance or contempt of” or “without being prevented by,” and they are freely interchangeable.
(b)   Unhyphenated compound modifier – In the term “road rage killing,” the compound modifier “road rage” needs to be hyphenated—“road-rage”—to make it clear that the two nouns are jointly modifying the noun “killing,” and not that the noun “road” is modifying the noun form “rage killing.”
(c)   Gender-biased noun phrase – The noun phrase “a 50-man team” is not only gender-biased but also inconsistent with the facts of the Ivler story. One of the NBI agents wounded in the shooting that ensued during the arrest of Ivler was, in fact, a woman, and it’s very likely that at least a few more female NBI agents and staff were also involved in the operation. A nonsexist alternative for that phrase is “a 50-person team.”
(d)   Subject-verb disagreement error – In the second paragraph, the correct subject being modified by the relative clause “who turned out to be hiding right inside their home in Blue Ridge Subdivision, Quezon City” isn’t the plural “the country’s most wanted fugitives” but the singular “one of the country’s most wanted fugitives” (Ivler himself). That relative clause should therefore be in the singular form, “who turned out to be hiding right inside the Pollard home in Blue Ridge Subdivision, Quezon City.”

The problematic passage thus need to be revised as follows:

“MANILA, Philippines—Despite two raids and 24-hour surveillance by three tracker teams, Quezon city policemen still failed to arrest Filipino-American Jason Ivler, the suspect in the road-rage killing of the son of a Malacañang official.

“It took two months and a 50-person team from the National Bureau of Investigation to pin down one of the country’s most wanted fugitives, who turned out to be hiding right inside the Pollard home in Blue Ridge Subdivision, Quezon City.”

(2) Philippine Inquirer: Seriously garbled phrasing

Pollard immunity in peril; Ivler faces more raps

“MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is coordinating with law enforcement authorities on the possibility of stripping the stepfather of road rage suspect Jason Ivler of diplomatic immunity following the latter’s arrest by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).”

The garbling of the phrase “on the possibility of stripping the stepfather of road rage suspect Jason Ivler of diplomatic immunity” is so serious that a reader who isn’t familiar with the Ivler story won’t know who’s who, what’s what, and which is which in that sentence.

Here’s a rewrite of that sentence that clarifies what it is saying:

“MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is coordinating with law enforcement authorities on the possibility of stripping road-rage suspect Jason Ivler’s stepfather of his diplomatic immunity following Ivler’s arrest by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).”

(3) Philippine Star: Wordiness, versified reporting, hint of political bias

Noynoy assures free, fair competition for businessmen

“MANILA, Philippines – Wooing for the nod of the business community, Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III today vowed to provide businessmen a ‘level playing field’ free of cronyism once he is elected as President in the May 2010 elections.”

The lead sentence above has three semantic problems:
(a)   Misuse of verb phrase – Aside from being a rank tautology, the verb phrase “wooing for the nod of the business community” also misuses the verb “wooing.” The intransitive verb “woo,” by definition, means “to court somebody” (usually a woman), a meaning that, of course, already subsumes the idea of getting that somebody’s “nod.” This means that “wooing” in that problematic phrase doesn’t need the prepositional phrase “for the nod” at all. Indeed, it should be in the transitive verb form “wooing,” modifying “the business community” as direct object.
(b)   Awkward rhyming of “wooing,” “nod,” and “vowed” – Although there’s nothing wrong with it grammatically, the unintended rhyming of “wooing,” “nod,” and “vowed” gives a peculiar laughable sound to what is intended to be a serious statement. If I were the editor, I would have avoided such inadvertent versification of journalistic prose by, say, eliminating “nod” outright and changing “vowed” to “pledged” just to avoid injecting unwanted levity to the statement.
(c)   Certainty for what should be modal – In the phrase “once he is elected as President,” the use of the indicative “once” instead of the modal “if” isn’t only grammatically wrong but politically suspect. It seems to indicate bias in favor of the subject on the part of the reporter and the desk editor. Also, the use of the preposition “as” in that problematic phrase is unnecessary. A better, more succinct and dispassionate phrasing is “if elected President.”

Here’s a suggested revision of that problematic passage:

“MANILA, Philippines – Wooing the business community, Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III today pledged to provide businessmen a ‘level playing field’ free of cronyism if elected President in the May 2010 elections.”

(4) Philippine Star: Improper compounding of additive grammar element

GMA can extend term of AFP chief – Palace

“Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita yesterday said the President can extend the term of generals of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and even the chief of staff.”

The additive phrase “and even the chief of staff” is improperly compounded in the above sentence, giving the unintended impression that what can be extended is the chief of staff himself and not his term of office. This is a very common mistake in such constructions, and it can be easily corrected by making use of the connective “that of” to make the phrase yield the correct semantics.

The correct form for such compounding is as follows:

“Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita yesterday said the President can extend the term of generals of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and even that of the chief of staff.”

(5) The Manila Times: Awkwardly phrased lead paragraph

Romblon and the Biniray Festival

“Fiestas come and go. But for the townspeople of Romblon, Romblon this year’s celebrations honoring their patron saint, Senior Santo Niño de Romblon, was an auspicious occasion to thank the child image of Jesus Christ for helping the town recover from the horrendous impacts of typhoons Frank and Ondoy.”

The lead paragraph above, taken from a feature story, is flawed in three ways:
(a)   Awkward and confusing phrasing – In the second sentence, the awkward phrasing of the statement “But for the townspeople of Romblon, Romblon this year’s celebrations honoring their patron saint, Senior Santo Niño de Romblon” makes the statement very hard to grasp. The town and province of Romblon being namesakes, the author and desk editor should have been prescient enough to anticipate that putting them beside each other in that sentence would cause not only grammatical but also semantic problems. (Incidentally, putting a comma after the second “Romblon” would have minimized those problems—this, after all, is the proper way to indicate town-province and state-country names in sentences—but it seems to have become standard journalistic practice to just drop that clarifying comma in such instances.)
(b)   Subject-verb disagreement error – In the phrase “this year’s celebrations honoring their patron saint, Senior Santo Niño de Romblon, was an auspicious occasion,” the true subject is the plural “celebrations,” not the singular “their patron saint,” so the verb in the predicate “was an auspicious occasion” should be the plural “were” instead.
(c)   Erroneous plural form of a noncount noun – The noncount noun “impact” is wrongly pluralized in the phrase “from the horrendous impacts.” The grammatically correct way is to treat it as the collective noun “impact,” without the “s.”

Here’s a suggested rewrite of the original passage that eliminates the problems above:

“Fiestas come and go. But for the townspeople of Romblon in Romblon province, this year’s celebrations honoring their patron saint, Senior Santo Niño de Romblon, were an auspicious occasion to thank the child image of Jesus Christ for helping the town recover from the horrendous impact of typhoons Frank and Ondoy.”

aurorariel

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Re: The broadsheets’ improved English might put finis to my media watch
« Reply #1 on: January 28, 2010, 09:47:22 PM »
I am glad to hear such good news. It reminds me of the Polio Foundation, with its major goal to self-destruct.
 
In the late 1990s when I was there in the Philippines, I was an adviser to graduate students desiring to come up with special research projects relating to their major, namely Education.
 
Teaching high school English was their concentration. They had difficulty in getting started. As students, they did not learn to ask good questions about any subject that they need to study.
 
They indicated that they had instructions from their principal to do projects that would help improve instruction in their areas of specialization.
 
I suggested that they buy three broadsheets for a week—the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Philippine Star, and the Manila Bulletin. Read in full the stories in the front pages. Find and note the grammatical errors. That ought to help them identify certain areas of improvement in instruction of English for high school students.
 
Two of my advisees had real problems. They were high school teachers and they found no errors, while three of the better advisees found more than 50 errors in the same broadsheets that they examined. The errors related to (1) gender (“he”/“she”), confusion in relating a pronoun to a husband or a wife; mixing up “she” with “him”/“his” and mixing “he” with “her” in the same sentence/paragraph although referring to the same person; (2) number, confusion in mixing up the usage of “he” with “their”/“them,” “they” with “his”/“him,” and “it”/“he”/“she” with the plural form of verbs; and mixing up “they” and “them” with the singular form of verbs; (3) tenses, confusion in matching the verb forms that should go with “have,” the infinitives, and the passive/active voice; and (4) case, confusion mostly in the objective case.
 
Anyway, [it is good to know that] the broadsheets now seem to be only a minute part of the problem. The young people are now learning more from TV shows and are getting sold to the style of smart-looking Taglish speaking celebrities. It is amazing how fast the waves of change have influenced global usage and communication.
 
Soon enough Webster’s and Roget’s and Funk and Wagnalls will be made obsolete by Wowowee and Kris Aquino and the Rap Groups here in the USA.