Incipient Grammatical Variation in Educated English Use in Nigeria: A Decline in the Use of the -s Third Person Singular Verb Inflection in Nigerian Newspapers


  • Bernadette Ogbonna Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos, Nigeria



Key words and phrases:  incipient grammatical variation, third person singular,-s verbal inflection, Nigerian print media, educated English use


In language variation studies, existing literature on domains of English use asserts that the language of English-medium newspapers globally is the educated, acrolectal, Standard English variety and that variation is not found in educated written English. Contrary to these two key assertions, this study notes the copious and progressive use of an unusual verb form in the Nigerian print media. The -s inflection performs two functions in grammatical number. It is a marker of plurality in count-nouns and singularity in lexical verbs. This study observes a decline in the use of the -s third person singular, present tense inflection in lexical verbs in Nigerian English-medium newspapers and investigates this phenomenon to establish its significance. Data collected from news reports and feature stories in a cross-section of Nigerian newspapers over a period of seven years (2015 to 2021) were examined. The study is situated within variation theory; it adopts observational, quantitative and interpretive methods of enquiry. The findings reveal that the use of the -s third person singular, present tense inflection in lexical verbs is declining in new generation Nigerian newspapers and the uninflected verb form is increasingly replacing it. This suggests an incipient, morphosyntactic variation, emerging in the Nigerian print media. The findings of the study counter existing literature which asserts that variation does not occur in educated written English but rather establish that variation can be found in educated written language. Through its findings, the study re-directs research in language variation to hitherto unexploited sources of data.



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