There and their (IV)

THE excerpt that has served us for the past three weeks comes under scrutiny for the fourth time. It is presented as sample 1.

Sample 1: “…he has not picked up any local dialect or the national language, English, which are dominantly spoken by indigenes…Been a light sleeper, I only had one opportunity to look through the window before ducking through the back door and escape into the bush…There remains were deposited at the Bishop Shanahan Mortuary at Nsukka…The reality is that the menace of the Fulani Herdsmen is real. In fact it has become a routine exercise in many farming settlements in the northern parts of Nigeria…Fulani herdsmen don’t understand any other language other than their own…Fulani people places premium attention on seniority, rank and class…They also learn to live under harsh weather conditions while tending to their wares…For AlhajiLukmonMafindi, chairman of Miyetti Allah in Taraba, rustlers are the biggest treat to herdsmen…Needless to add, Fulani herdsmen will attempt to dominate it environ if given the opportunity…While farmers are skeptical about the idea on the strength that vacant or free land is hard to come by due to expanding farming…He added that education is also key in order to teach host and renters that mutual understanding and social integration will keep us together than isolation and mistrust.”(Grazing Reserves: Lasting Solution or More Problems? The Nation, May 1, 2016)

Let’s note the pronoun it which occurs in the following context: “Fulani herdsmen will try to dominate it environ.” Many things are wrong with the choice of the pronoun (it). To identify the problems, we need to identify the antecedent of the pronoun. What is the noun that this pronoun is meant to replace? The noun, actually a noun phrase, is unmistakable: Fulani herdsmen. Now as for the pronoun under reference (it), is it in its singular or plural form? It is clearly in its singular form.

Now let’s ask another simplistic question. Is the phrase Fulani herdsmen in its singular or plural form? It is, no doubt, in its plural form. Here we locate the first problem with the pronoun: its singular form is inconsistent with the plural form of the nominal phrase that is supposed to be its antecedent.

Even the form, apart from the question of singularity/plurality, is wrong. What is required in that context is the possessive adjective, not just the pronominal form. All pronouns have their possessive adjective forms. I: the possessive form is my; e.g. my book, my neighbor, my house, my friend, my husband; etc; You: the possessive form is your; e.g. your shoes, your story, your interest, your wife, your business; etc; They: the possessive form is their; e.g. their culture, their church, theiruniversity, their affairs, their staff etc; It: the possessive form is its; e.g. its end, its entrance, its tail, its surroundings, etc.

And so, if for the sake argument, we allow the singular form in the slot which the pronoun (it) now occupies, the form has to be possessive and not purely nominal. However, since we have seen that it is the plural form that is required in the context, the plural form has to be possessive. That form is their: “Fulani herdsmen will attempt to dominate their environ.”

Yet, there are problems with the word environ. The first problem has to do with the singular form of that word. That word, let us note, is never used in its singular form. It always occurs in its plural form: environs.

Having secured the appropriate form of the word (environs), we need to note that it has not been properly used in the context. That word is never used in relation to human beings but in relation to things. Please read the following sentences: 1) From the topmost floor, you could see the school and its environs.  2) It provided an opportunity for us to visit the town and its environs. 3) The imposing tree and its environs were a pleasant sight for tourists. 4) The historic site and its environs soon grew into a tourist cenre. 5) There was no visible civilization in the rocky plateau and its environs. 6) The lake and its environs are infested with crocodiles and other dangerous reptiles.

By the way, the word surroundings in the sense of environs or environment always has a final –s. Please read the following sentences: 1) It is our duty to keep our surroundings clean and hygienic. 2) The young man is still adjusting to his surroundings. 3) The immediate concern is how to cope with the hostile surroundings. 4) I am unwilling to leave these beautiful surroundings. 5) There is a sense in which your surroundings have an effect on you. 6) The surroundings are conducive to reading and meditation.

This usage is different from the adjectival/participial usage of the word surrounding. In this case, the word does not need a final –s. Read the following sentences: 1) Thesurrounding hills made the city impregnable in the days of incessant warfare.2) The town and the surrounding villages have been poorly treated in spite of the oppressive taxation. 3) The moon and the surrounding stars made the night of celebration a memorable one. 4) The university and the surrounding schools are a source of attraction to foreigners. 5) The surrounding factories provide job opportunities for our sons and daughters. 6) With so many hotels surrounding us, there is no problem of accommodation for our visitors. 7) All the surrounding houses were attacked by armed robbers. 8) We got our independence about the same time many of the surrounding nations got theirs.

We now note the following points. The word environs always ends in –s; so does the word surroundings, its synonym. However, when the word surrounding is used as an adjective or participle, it does not need a final –s. I would, however, advise that we prefer the nounenvironment in the context under review: “Fulani herdsmen will attempt to dominate their environment.”

Next, we note the word than as used in the following context: “mutual understanding and social integration will keep us together than isolation and mistrust.” How is the word than used? It is used in conjunction with a comparative adjective or adverb morphologically marked as –er: better, higher, bigger, slower, brighter, stronger, healthier, trimmer, etc. In many other cases, the word more is employed where the morphological change is unacceptable. Without one of these options, the word than cannot be used.

The word thancan also be used when it is preceded by the word rather. Now read the following sentences: 1) A humble man is greater in the sight of God than an arrogant man. 2) Wealth is far better than poverty. 3) The lady is more brilliant than her husband. 4) This film is far more interesting than the previous one. 5) I would rather pass the night here than travel late. 6) She is a better writer than any other member of the class.

In the sentence under examination, none of the conditions we have identified is in evidence and yet the word than is present. The sentence should read: “mutual understanding and social integration will keep us togetherrather than isolation and mistrust.”