Language: Strict vs Liberal

Language is one of the most important, powerful and interactive communication tools that we as humans have, and its origin dates back thousands, possibly even millions of years, although we can’t pinpoint exactly when and where it all began.

So why, through all these years of practice and perfection, through incredibly in-depth research and development, and billions of pages dedicated to explaining its rules and usage, do linguistic pedants and apostrophe police still struggle to grasp – or ultimately, accept – language as a moving, living thing?

Children and youngsters were often taught from an early age to use ‘proper English’ and how important this would be in terms of achieving success later in life. But doesn’t it seem that Engelse Taal’s quote – ‘If a non-standard-speaking child persists in using non standard English, particularly non-standard grammar, that child will not progress’ – is a harsh attitude in today’s society?

In my opinion, I would say yes, it’s extremely dated. But I also think that we need to teach youngsters the foundations of ‘proper’ language, and then teach them how rules can be broken. Knowing the two styles of interpretation – strict and liberal – could benefit them later in life when faced with different types of people and situations. However much language and dialect shouldn’t reflect a person, how educated they are, and what kind of upbringing they had, the simple fact is that people do judge.

But, allowing them some freedom when it comes to language and grammar would help people develop their own unique style. Take Shakespeare for example. He was quite often frowned upon by the audience in his era because they weren’t used to the language he used, yet now, his objectively-packed poems and imaginative plays are considered a work of art.

People would understand that actually, an Oxford comma after an ‘and’ is allowed, and they can start a sentence with a conjunction. Because doing so has the ability to change a sentence entirely. (Read Flick’s blog post about the Oxford comma, and other grammar gripes here). Language is here to express inner thoughts and emotions, make sense of complex and abstract thoughts, and to help us learn to communicate with others, fulfil our wants and needs, and establish rules and maintain our culture.

But we must remember that language which was taught 20 years ago isn’t ‘correct’ in the way once was, because we’ve evolved and moved on. And just like time, we can’t stop it and shouldn’t try to. Currently, there is a new word created every 98 minutes, that’s about 14.7 words per day. Around 1,000 are actually added to the Oxford online dictionary each year, and words get removed on a daily basis too.

Linguistics-loving Harry Ritchie, a contributor for The Guardian, wrote a fantastic and thought-provoking piece recently. His argument was ‘why do we persist in thinking that standard English is right, when it is spoken by only 15% of the British population?’ (With the 15% typically being upper class families and individuals).

He also highlights how standard English continues – even now – to be prized as the “correct” form, and any deviation is considered to be wrong, lazy, corrupt or ignorant. The options people have? Simply to switch dialects, or fail.

There are still many pedants out in the world that enjoy correcting grammar and language, whether that’s just highlighting a grammatical error on a sign in a supermarket which states ’10 items or less’ and insisting it should be ’10 items or fewer’ or some such nonsense. And then there are those that aren’t fussed about errors and how something should be spelt, and carry on with their lives regardless, probably using text-speak.

The argument of strict, standard English versus ‘modern’ language is ongoing, but the fact remains that it’s changing all the time. As a result, I believe that we need to put our preconception to one side, and work together to find a new way to describe our language system, rules and structures – now and in the future.

By Jennie Windle, PR Executive
(Connect with Jennie here)

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