Thursday, October 07, 2010

The English Language: it's not doing great

Each day seems to bring another argument about language and how it should be used. It is a great time to be an English Language student, huzzah!

Today's Independent features an opinion piece by Dr. Bernard Lamb, the President of the Queen's English Society (Surely that's a dangerously republican title for a staunchly royalist organisation?) who argues, among other things, for an end to the inverted snobbery and deliberate dumbing down of language that have led to a generation of nitwits not knowing the difference between they're and their. He rails against many other things too: the glottal stop; the lack of capitalisation of proper nouns; using great as an adverb when it's an adjective (Stop press! It's been used as an adverb for a long time. Deal with it!).

And as a professor of genetics, he's obviously eminently qualified to talk about... genetics. So why is he holding forth about language?

Anyway, he does make some sensible points too. There is a really good argument that we all need Standard English as it is a mutually intelligible dialect for all English speakers. If we all have access to Standard English then we all have a chance to communicate with each other, regardless of the region, the social class, the ethnic group or the age group we come from. I wouldn't argue against any of that. But when the definition of Standard English (or the Queen's English as Lamb insists on calling it) spreads like a BP oil slick to cover strong regional accents, glottal stops and the "misuse" of literally, then it's no longer really about a mutually intelligible means of communication and much more to do with personal prejudices.

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