Monday, 5 February 2007

What is "proper English", anyway?

Do ever feel annoyed when you hear people complaining about the "falling standards" of spoken and written English? When someone complains that the use of colloqualisms is somehow not "correct" and, indeed, "damaging" to our culture? I do. It bugs the crap out of me.

It seems to me that these people are bound by the contents of their dictionary, when really it should the dictionary that's bound by the common usage and corruption of words.

Surely it is the dictionary's purpose to chart the progress of our ever changing language, rather than dictate to us how we should speak it? Did Samuel Johnson not spend nine years travelling England, Scotland and Wales in order to accurately gather a list of commonly used words and then explain their meaning? While he also sought to standardise variations of these words, which is of course important, I see no indication that he edited out certain phrases that he felt were not "proper English", for what is "proper English" if it is not he language spoken by people dwelling in England, Scotland and Wales?

The next time you hear someone complaining about "falling standards" of English or moaning about a certain new colloquialism, remember that language, by its very nature, is constantly changing and evolving, and it dictated by those who speak it, not those who compile it and attempt to order it.

It seems wrong and completely against the nature of language that it should be bound by the 'snapshot' that a dictionary represents. Dictionaries should follow trends and help standardise them, not limit the natural flow of language or, in the worst cases I've seen, be abused to create division for the sake of snobbery and a sense of superiority.

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