November 01, 2010

Save Standard English; or, Stop Being Mis-CHEEVY-ous!

One hears stories on the BBC, stories without a note of disapprobation mind you, about the ways in which the youth of today is bastardizing the English language without so much as a by your leave. It’s all most troubling. Apparently, the status of English as the new French is not the only route to its being sullied and abused. The bally natives can’t even get the thing right, apparently because they labour under the misconception that words ought to sound how they are spelled. Hence the pronunciation of ‘ate’ as 8, instead of ‘et’, which used to be how it was spelled, until someone made it deliciously ornate to ward off interlopers. The same is true of ‘says’, which the poor blighters are rhyming with ‘ways’ instead of ‘fez’. It will never do.

My pet peeve – you might have noted that I have a number of pet peeves; the apartment is a regular menagerie by now – is the insistence of the illiterate in pronouncing ‘aitch’ with an ‘h’ at the beginning. One might be forgiven for thinking that it is only English-speaking French people who go around putting aitches everywhere except where they are meant to be, but apparently the British have a great knack for it. I’m told it’s something to do with a rather silly neurosis about not appearing to be working class. That’s how Orwell identified his socially inferior comrades, don’t you know? He compelled the middle classes to join forces in an incoherent socialism, telling his stupefied readers that they had nothing to lose but their aitches. Well, more fool him for thinking that aitches were trifles. In the event, it turns out that the working classes fancied a bit of the capitalist pie after all, and figured that aitches were the only thing standing in their way. So, they put them every-bloody-where, including at the start of ‘aitch’, thereby ensuring that everyone can still readily identify them as the working classes they long not to be.

It's to the north, I believe

Those incorrigible scamps who dare to use polysyllables also tinker with the word ‘mischievous’, pronouncing a phantom ‘i’ before the ‘o’. I suppose it’s either a sick joke or that they are borrowing the ‘i’ from American aluminium, which apparently has one going spare. And all the while the politically correct linguists keep repeating that there’s no right or wrong; that this is how language evolves; each to his own, and so on. Well, I’m all for regional diversity: England has a great range of daft accents and dialects that help us to know where we are, and they are a wonderful source of pride and passion, as well as an endless mine for television comedians and advertisers. But, we’ve all always known that there was a correct way to speak that served for job interviews, meeting the vicar or the bank manager, and for generally being understood when outside one’s own village. To be ‘bidialectal’ was to be English. However, if we go around saying that anyone can talk any old way they please, it’s all the same to us, and sorry even for breathing, then before you know it we’ll be a barbarian backwater. Americans, instead of assuming that we’re all touched with genius and related to the Queen, will laud it over us for our inferior articulations, and laugh at our cute incompetency with the language we invented.

Save Standard English. It’s the only damn thing we have left!


  1. Doctor, let me subscribe to your final appeal - for some reason, I am thinking about Machiavelli ending the Prince with an appeal to patriotism in Italy and a stanza from Petrarch - and let me lament England has nothing left to boast when it comes to the grand arena.

    But I am sure that a deep love of the language would again make English people competent to read their masters and to speak in public. - Or when's the last time you heard a good speech in English?

  2. The problem is language is so intwined with culture, can it not be bastardized? But i agree that American schools need to teach public speaking skills. And not just any old public speaking skills, people need to learn to speak clearly, professionally, and with enunciation.

    While the decline of speaking clearly in public may be a tragedy, I would say that writing skills are in greater need of repair. Dam the stream or dam the river? That's the question.

  3. My dear Kravien, there is a good reason for the continual replaying of Churchillian speeches. Nothing has come close since.

    And my dear TE, I cannot fault you on your observation that language is intwined with culture, but our mistake is to think of culture as completely free. It never has been before: the power of court and patronage ensured that culture was played out along narrowly conceived lines. The 'anything goes' attitude is part of the general abdication of leadership - not just in politics, but in art, music, literature and poetry. Who are the great patrons? Who are the guardians of public life? Where is our court, and who are the courtly (and where, to that end, is courtesy?)? Where, in short, do people learn (school is clearly not the answer)? I'm not sure about damming streams or rivers. Damn it all, I say.


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