Celtel’s indiscretion with language

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

There are about only four pauses in the English language known to me. Not in the order of their importance though but there is the colon, semi-colon, comma and the full stop. Apart from the fact that the full stop has other names like ‘period’, ‘stop’, ‘dot’ and ‘unopened bracket’, it is considered the longest of all of the pauses. From a syntactic or phonetic point of view, the full stop is at the epicenter of that rule that says that at the end of a stretch of speech or of a sentence, there should be a full stop to signal the cessation of thought. Of course there are other uses that the full stop can be put apart from the one mentioned above: it is used mostly in abbreviations even though it is hardly in sync with modern usage to use it with abbreviations and acronyms like BBC, CNN, AIT, Mr and the like. The stop should also be placed on top of letter ‘i’ the way it is used here to show that that letter is lower case. There are other uses but these have no relationship with the issues that Celtel’s adverts in the following weeks have raised.

What Celtel as a new player in the Nigerian telecoms industry is doing today is ignore one of the most powerful structures in English syntax, the simple sentence, to appeal either to our sense of values or to our base emotions. Appealing to our sense of values or to our base emotions is a normal advertising ploy and plot and there is nothing the matter with doing this. In fact, with the other telecoms companies on ground, they go the hog by expressing their corporate imagery using a simple sentence. These companies are mostly interested in catch expressions like ‘Glo…with Pride’, MTN…the best connection’, Vmobile…it’s all about you’ etcetera. This simple sentence, among all the other sentences in English carries a lot of weight: it is like a thesis statement and has a lot of dramatic implications. A lot can be encoded in just one line of a poem so much so that when you decode a seemingly innocuous exclamation like “O lame saint!‘ you may find yourself face-to-face with a “Mona Lisa” (Dan Brown: The Da Vinci Code). The simple sentence here as it is used by all these other advertising companies apart from Celtel is relevant because it has enabled them say volumes in very few words. That simple sentence also projects the corporate identity of the company.

I have decided to zoom in on Celtel’s use of phrases mostly because these one-word ‘sentences’ violate simple syntactic expectations and contribute to the spectrum of some my student’s inability to follow simple grammatical conventions. But before I go on to discuss the ramifications of their use of phrases and single words to sell their corporate ideas to us, let me first here say that what they do falls within the proprietary limits of what is known as ‘block language’. In block language, the user ignores the conventions of punctuation and syntax mostly because there is a need to manage space. By so doing, language gets reduced to a ‘rudimentary communicative role’ (Quirk et all, 1973 p. 205). What we are trying to say here is that when you have decided to use this sort of language, the onus falls on you as well to ignore the conventions and punctuations associated with that language.

Celtel particularly has not done this. What they have done nonetheless is present a set of phrases that violate normal conventions of language and that of the language of advertising. Take for instance the expressions, ‘Welcome. Possibilities‘ or ‘Accomplish. Goals. Ordinarily, this set of words has no inherent communicative value apart from the fact that we may take them to mean, ‘Welcome to possibilities’, and ‘Accomplish your goals’. If that is whatever message it is that they intended to send across to us, the phrases should have read, ‘Welcome…possibilities’, ‘Accomplish…goals’, the elliptical dots in the middle of the phrases giving us the impression that some words are colloquially assumed to have been accounted for. If they did not do this, all they should do is state the phrase without the use of the dot thus: ‘Accomplish goals’, ‘Welcome possibilities’, without any nuance of punctuation whatsoever. But they have bandied and branded that very outdated method of sending across messages that was prevalent in the early sixties and seventies. When I was in secondary school in the early eighties and I needed to ask my father for an SOS, I would send him a telegram. A telegram is that crude form that email developed from.Because I was mindful of the cost of the message I wanted to send, I took care to be prudent with the volume of words that I sent to my father. Ergo, an SOS of that nature looked like this: Father. Send. Money. Stranded. Is this the type of economy with words that Celtel is trying to achieve?

Well, if that is the case, I put it to them that they are unwittingly contributing to making our jobs as teachers of English harder and harder by the day. The reason I say this is because I have had that privilege of taking part in a marking exercise for our dominant sub-regional examinations bodies and I have been shocked to find out that a lot of the candidates either to do not append full stops at the end of sentences or they write exactly like Celtel’s ‘Welcome.Possibilities’, and ‘Accomplish.Goals’. One reason why we must urge this telecoms company to adjust its linguistic and advertorial style now is that there is a linguistic quip that goes thus: ‘our language is our world and our world is our language’. Really, this is so. More than anything today, the language habits of either the big television stations like CNN or that of a big telecoms company like Celtel has a great influence on our students. Despite the fact that I am yet to come across any one of my students become an apostle of Celtel’s style, this write-up tries to act as a check and or balance against the prospect of this becoming the vogue.

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warriboi September 24, 2006 - 6:39 pm

Mr.Man,that was an upper cut!

It was like killing a fly with a shot gun.

Anonymous September 19, 2006 - 3:30 pm

well said mrman.

Mrman September 19, 2006 - 1:01 pm

I beg you man, you need to know adverts are of commercial value and vogue not language. Even if you go to the West adverts like Celtel's are very common..they are different eg. AT&T's Your World. Delivered. ; exposure to international advertorial and branding standards will reveal to you that your essay is rootedin limited experience to the archaic Nigerian advert industry. May be the introduction of new ideas by multinational firms like Celtel will help remove the days of hoorendous on the top of your voice adverts that communicate in bush man language presently dominating Nigeria's media. Change should be embraced not resisted


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