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Opinions of Monday, 1 June 2015

Columnist: Azindoo, Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq

Literary discourse: “parents and their wards”: error of semantics

By Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq Azindoo, Coordinator of Students and University Relations, University of Applied Management (UAM), Germany – Ghana Campus, McCarthy Hill, Accra and Tamale
Email: Tell: 0244755402


Semantics is the branch of Linguistics that deals with the meanings of words. Therefore, wrong constructions in relation to word meanings amount to Error of Semantics. For instance, in the sentence “I sat in the FRONT when I boarded the airplane”, the word “front” is an error of semantics. This is because in the Lexicon of Aeronautics the “frontal” compartment – where the pilots and some members of the crew sit – is called COCKPIT not FRONT. To correct this error of semantics, we simply replace FRONT with COCKPIT. This kind of error is opposed to Error of Grammar in which a grammatical rule or rules are violated. An example is the sentence “Suglo HAVE EAT rice.” In this sentence the Errors of Grammar are: (a) faulty use of the auxiliary verb “have” and (b) faulty use of the main verb “eat.” These Errors of Grammar can simply be corrected by replacing “have” with “has” and “eat” with “eaten.” [Suglo HAS EATEN rice].

It is significant to state that sometimes errors are ‘protected’ by the Concept of Regionalism, in which a particular error in a particular region or variety of English is correct in another region or variety of English. But some errors remain errors in all varieties of English and in all semantic and grammatical contexts. Arguably, among these errors, worthy of literary discourse, is the phrase “parents and their wards.”

Learning Outcome

By the end of this discourse, readers and learners should understand Error of Semantics in the context of the phrase:

• “Parents and their wards.”


As a phrase, “parents and their wards” showcases a state of coordination between two words that are semantically and contextually unmatched. These are “parents” and “wards.” Let us elaborate our contention by analyzing the definitions of the words in various dictionaries and in the context of the application of the phrase in question by a section of the Ghanaian media.


Before we proceed, we need to share with readers a sample of headlines involving portions of the phrase under review in a section of the media. This is to help us appreciate the context of our analysis, consolidate our contention, and enhance our understanding of the entire discourse.
• Parents advised to have time for their wards › News- Aug 15, 2014

• Parents advised not to sell their wards › Headlines – Aug 17, 2014

• Parents advised against choosing courses for their wards › education › 2014

• Parents urged to take their wards education serious - Ghana ... - June 30, 2011

• Parents urged to be role models for their wards ... - Jul 30, 2013

• Parents advised not to impose schools and courses on their wards - Jun 2, 2008

An Accra-based eminent professor even recently advised “PARENTS to teach their WARDS religious morals at home and not leave them in the hands of teachers alone.” Interesting!

Definitions of key words:

• … a person, especially a child, who is dependent upon the care and support of an appointed guardian. – Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 2015.

• A child or young person under the care and control of a guardian appointed by their parents or a court. Oxford Dictionary of English, 2010.

• A person, especially a child, who is legally put under the protection of a law court or a guardian – Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 2015.

• Someone, especially a child, who is under the legal protection of another person or of a law court. – Longman Dictionary of contemporary English, 2015.

NOTE: There are other definitions of “ward” in the above dictionaries, but those cited here are in relation to “child” and “parent.”


All the dictionaries define “parent” as a FATHER or MOTHER or a person who has a CHILD. It is instructive to note that “parent” too has other definitions that are irrelevant to the subject matter of this discussion.


A careful analysis of the above definitions of “ward” raises certain issues of consideration in its application. It is clear that “ward” is a synonym of “child”, but before a “child” becomes a “ward”, depending on the locality, the following issues ought to be considered:

• Appointment of a GUARDIAN by the parents
• Appointment of a GUARDIAN by a court or any other legal or traditional authority
• Appointment of a GUARDIAN by the head of an extended family
• ‘Appointment’ of a GUARDIAN by the child himself or herself in certain circumstances.

It, therefore, stands to reason that ideally there cannot be a “ward” without a “guardian”, and parents cease to be responsible for the care, control, and needs – educational and others – of wards. Every “ward” may have parents, but contextually, the phrase “parents and their wards” amounts to an error of semantics and logic, since no “ward” depends on parents for care, control, and needs. One could argue that depending on the legal arrangement, a court could be responsible for the care of a ward. That is a fact! However, when the same semantic logic is stretched, the same court will be the “guardian.” In our part of the world, where extended family system is a norm, a parent may have several wards and children in his domestic jurisdiction. In that context, it might be semantically reasonable and culturally justifiable to call all of them “children.” This is because every ward is a child, but not every child is a ward. (Revisit the definitions of ward).

It is important to indicate the distinction between Error of Semantics and Figurative Use of Language. For instance, though humans do not “rain”, the sentence “Anamzoya ‘rains’ insults on his children every day” is correct in the context of HYPERBOLE – exaggeration. Other forms of figurative usage and their effects are: “Kassim ‘barks’ at perceived enemies” [SARCASM], “Tiyumtaba is a ‘lion’ among his peers” [METAPHOR], and “Kofi has a ‘smiling’ new car” [PERSONIFICATION]. These and many others belong to a special topic in Literature called Figures of Speech or Literary Devices which we will extensively discuss later.


In the light of the above analysis, it has become clear that the phrase “parents and their wards” is one of the semantic atrocities confronting the English Language speaking community in Ghana. Hhahahahaa! We humbly suggest that semantics and pragmatics [language use in context] will be respected if the disputed phrase is replaced with “guardians and their wards.” Alternatively, we could say “parents and their children”, if the context demands “children” NOT “wards.” In summary, we respectfully contend that the correct phrases are “guardians and their wards” but “parents and their children.”


Bybee, J. Perkins, R., & Pagliuca, W. (1994). The evolution of grammar. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. (2015). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Davis, S.,& Brendan, S. G. (eds.). (2004). Semantics: a reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

James, C. (1998). Errors in language learning and use. London: Routledge.

Longman dictionary of contemporary English. (2015). London: Pearson PLC.

Oxford dictionary of English. (2010). (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Parents advised not to impose schools and courses on their wards. (2008). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http:

Parents advised to have time for their wards. (2014). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http:

Parents advised not to sell their wards. (2014). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http:

Parents advised against choosing courses for their wards. (2014). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http:

Parents urged to take their wards education serious - Ghana ... (2011). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http:

Parents urged to be role models for their wards ... (2013). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http:

Webster's New World College Dictionary. (2015). Cleveland, Ohio: Wiley Publishing, Inc.