Thursday, May 21, 2015

Does 'English' exist?

from an article by Eric Kowal from Wordwizard • Members' articles

The English language is, and always seems to have been, a perpetual battleground whose skirmishes take the form of controversies over usage and grammar....There has also never been a shortage of vociferous listeners to the BBC (the state-owned British broadcasting organization) complaining of its supposed failure to uphold standards of English usage - these standards presumably having been handed down from some mystical, mythical golden age of grammatical and vocabularian rectitude which often seem to be located in the decade of the complainer's childhood. Mix into this already-potent brew of linguistic controversy and personal prejudice the element of class rivalry described in Professor Alan Ross's notoriously provocative article of 1954, 'U and non-U', and it really starts to fizz!

I cite these examples simply to demonstrate how written English in particular (or, for that matter, any other language which exists in written form) will always be subject to the tension that exists between the need for it to remain capable of expressing meaning clearly and unambiguously, and the felt need for it to reflect wider social changes, and hence to reflect how people modify both how they speak and how they prefer to write. (Not that spoken English is free from controversy or judgmental strictures either, but being ephemeral and more contingent on immediate circumstance, it is less easy to criticize it comprehensively than it is to criticize written English.)

English has particular difficulty in accommodating the pull of these conflicting requirements. This is partly because it is the second language of choice of so many non-native English speakers throughout the world, and also because there is a large number of different nations and cultures whose first language is nominally English (such as Australia, Barbados, South Africa and the United States, to mention just a few), but whose diversity of experience, cultures and natural environment inevitably promote divergence from any theoretical 'Standard English'.

Read the rest here. Check out the WordWizard site for more about English, plus links and resouces

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