30. A case against Nepali Journalist II

A case against Nepali Journalist II: Grammar and Semantics

Nationalism in jeopardy‚ says Khanal
The Himalayan Times, October 7, 2012
KATHMANDU, October 6: CPN-UML Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal today said that the country’s nationalism was at risk due to the wrong decisions of UCPN-Maoist-led government.
Addressing a programme hosted by UML-aligned Youth Association of Nepal, Khanal claimed it was only the UML which could safeguard national interest, nationalism and maintain social harmony in the country.
“The country is in danger due to the UCPN-M’s authoritarian mindset,” he said, adding, “We will safeguard our nationalism by removing the Baburam Bhattarai-led government from power.”
Without pinpointing any country, the UML chairman charged that foreign powers were responsible for bringing about division in his party.
He suggested that the only way to be free from the current constitutional and political crisis was to form a national consensus government, which would settle all those problems on the basis of mutual understanding between all the parties.

This is an example of a standard news article published in any major English daily in Nepal. From the choice of topic, the headline, the lead sentence, the language, and the quotes – one can notice the general template of almost all the front page news articles.

However, this is not just the trend plaguing our “who-said-what journalism”. The grammar and semantics part of the news is most often totally neglected. I get itchy whenever I read a sentence, although grammatically correct (eg: direct to indirect speech rule), that loses its meaning and looks funny to read. Sometimes it’s quite amusing to see writers sticking to grammatical rules all the while relying on lengthy, complex and muddled texts.

CPN-UML Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal today said that the country’s nationalism was at risk due to the wrong decisions of UCPN-Maoist-led government.

Logically, when we get a newspaper in our hand, we know the news had happened (at least) a day earlier. Hence, it would be clearer to write ‘yesterday’ rather than ‘today’, or just avoid it in the lead sentence.

And, it is only logical to think that, in this case, the country’s fate does not change overnight after Jhala Nath Khanal states so; the nationalism was at risk yesterday, and it still is today and almost surely, it will be at risk in the days to come. Thus, the sentence becomes more meaningful if written this way –

CPN-UML Chairman Jhala Nath Khanal has said that the country’s nationalism is at risk due to the wrong decisions of UCPN-Maoist-led government.

Here is another example.

Without pinpointing any country, the UML chairman charged that foreign powers were responsible for bringing about division in his party.

As vague and as meaningless this statement is, the use of grammatically correct ‘were’ makes it more wretched. Using a single quote mark and keeping the direct speech as it is might work.

Without pinpointing any country, the UML chairman charged that ‘foreign powers are responsible for bringing about division in his party.’

Or, rewrite the sentence sensibly.

Without pinpointing any country, the UML chairman blamed the foreign powers of bringing about division in his party.

And, here’s one more.

He suggested that the only way to be free from the current constitutional and political crisis was to form a national consensus government, which would settle all those problems on the basis of mutual understanding between all the parties.

I’m sure Khanal was not referring to any crisis in the history, but a present one.

He suggested that ‘the only way to be free from the current constitutional and political crisis is to form a national consensus government, which will settle all those problems on the basis of mutual understanding between all the parties.’

If backshifting (moving back of the tense) in reported speech presents ambiguous structures especially while writing on current news events, it’s better to ignore this particular grammar rule. The situation demands appropriateness over grammaticality, semantic understanding rather than syntactic correctness.

My two cents: while trying to keep things simple and understandable, I don’t think Nepali journalists have to follow ‘Nepali’ standards of writing text. Cliché it might be but it’s true: keep it short and simple.

Also read:
B is for Backshift – Scott Thornbury

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