The lead headline in a recent Daily Nation edition read as follows: “Waititu a man under siege as detectives close in on Sh588 (million) corruption probe”. One problem with this “closing in on a probe” was that it made the headline composed of too many words. For a newspaper headline to attain maximum impact, it must make sense with as few words as possible.
Moreover, quite surely, a closing in may put you “under siege”. The problem is that, for the attentive reader, the headline raised one basic question. No, it was not a language problem. It was only that, through it, the thinking of kindergarteners had been allowed to creep into a newspaper page.
For even if it is “on a probe” that you must close in, a closing in would remain the clinching part of any “probe”. You thus raised a troubling question: On our planet, in what other way can you put anybody “under siege”? According to the sub-editor responsible, you can do it simply by “…closing in on a probe…”
Yet to “close in on a probe” is to make the problem even metaphysical and much more difficult to solve. For, here, logic is what has gone haywire. On the earth – beautifully round though our planet is – how otherwise can you “…close in…” on a probe? In other words, it was not “a probe” that whoever it was “closed in on”.
It was not even a question of the troublesome prepositions of the language England recently colonially imposed on humankind the world over.
If the journalists involved had given their assignment just a tad more thought, they might have seen that any “closing in” would have been part and parcel of that probe.
Thus, every new advance that the inquirer had made would have constituted a closing in on the problem. Moreover, with just a tad more attention to language, those involved might easily have seen that the “probe” and the closing in were the same phenomenon. Indeed, they would have noticed that the closing in was the part that had clinched the case.
For it was what would have defined the probe and accurately summarised its findings. Ladies and gentlemen of Kenya’s Press, English was what your own nationalist leaders freely latched onto as independent Kenya’s national linguistic tool by which to train our children. English was what you yourselves chose for manipulating and selling the news and other kinds of merchandise.
That is why, no matter how challenging England’s language may be, you are the extremely expensively schooled future leaders of our country. You must thus struggle to master that language to cause it to help you and your country to make the language a sharp tool of national service both at home and throughout the world.
As your country’s leaders, you must reduce English to a simple instrument both of education and of practical work at a very high level. Of course, your country is wholly free to latch onto any other language. The country can even latch onto the language of the Maasai or of the Turkana as its national instrument.
But that equally depends on whether there is any advantage in Kenya dropping English as its tool both of governing and of mental training.
Personally, I don’t know any human language which would be more advantageous than English. Of course, mine might be nothing but prejudice based on the fact that, of all the languages that might be open to Kenya for national use, English is the one of which I have any scientific training and knowledge.
Mr Ochieng is a veteran journalist; [email protected]