Standardisation is an upper class ideology and txt speak is revolutionary

A couple of days ago I had a discussion about how to pronounce “mayor”. Needless to say, things got heated. My opponents went for mare, I staunchly stuck to my multisyllabic may-er. I know, I’m/they’re [delete as appropriate] disgusting.

But however you might pronounce it, is one way “wrong”? Is there a “correct” way to pronounce mayor?

No. There isn’t. There’s not.

When it comes to language, especially spoken language, there is – for the most part – no wrong and right. There is only standard and non-standard. And the standard version, which so often is equated with “correctness” (think RP/Queen’s English being “proper English” and “speaking properly”), is little more than an outdated ideology that benefits the upper class and paints non-users as stupid, inferior, and wrong. (Note my use of the Oxford comma there, which has now been deemed incorrect by the UK government. Rebel 4 lyf.)

For centuries, probably millennia, some grammarians have attempted to fix the “rules of grammar” at a certain point, under the pretence of allowing communication to be at its most effective and clear. This is a hugely misguided belief.

The entire history of the English language – and probably all languages worldwide – is filled with change. Change in language is good and natural and should not be fought against. Refusals to adhere to standardisation are the reason that we no longer end words like “physics” with a c and a k. How pointless a convention was that? They are the reason that nobody really cares anymore if you say “Turn the light off” instead of the supposedly correct “Turn off the light”, because we all know that Latinate rules proposed by aristocrats have no relevant bearing on how we use language in everyday situations in today’s society. Not that many people ever really cared anyway.

So if you want to keep prepositions away from the end of your sentences, then fine. If you want to pronounce scone so that it rhymes with stone and latte with par-té (that is how the kids say it, right?) then be my guest. But I won’t be joining you, and you shouldn’t expect me to.

Language diversity and change has existed in English ever since it began. It is something that should be celebrated, not stunted and stigmatised.

Not only does the standardisation ideology prevent change and adaptation in language, but it prestiges certain styles of speaking over others. Under the ideology, upper class accents carry more prestige than working class or local ones, despite the fact that the amount of people who truly speak in an RP accent is incredibly low – estimated at 3% in 1974, and surely lower now.

And there’s no intrinsic reason why RP has any more linguistic “worth” than any other dialect. Because that’s what RP is, a select dialect that has been elevated to an invented position of authority. The only reason it has such prestige is due to migration patterns in pre-industrial England, with movements between the midlands and London leading to the creation of an upper class dialect which was then dispersed via the country’s political, economic and power centre.

But there’s no reason for it to have this prestige any more. And while speaking in RP may allow users to adhere to common grammatical “rules”, this is not a constant or an absolute. Grammatical rules, if they exist at all, are not met by RP. Rather, RP creates these rules because it meets them. If you were to speak in any number of other regional dialects, then using “was” rather than “were” would be a “rule” for speaking in that particular dialect, and that would be the standard grammatical construction.

And such apparent deviance from grammatical norms is not wrong, just different; non-standard. English is a language full of irregularities, whether that is spelling, pronunciation, grammar, or virtually any other aspect. There will always be irregularities in English. A “correct” version of English which fully negotiates these irregularities does not and most likely cannot (or should that be can not?) ever exist.

Up until the 19th century, it was entirely common for writers to use multiple negatives. In fact, Geoffrey Chaucer, often held up as one of the greatest British writers of all time and a standard of eloquence to which we all should aim, sometimes used quadruple negatives in his writing to add emphasis to his point. Was he wrong to do this? Was Chaucer obscuring the meaning of his communication and making it more difficult for readers to understand? Do we read a quadruple negative and think, actually, wait a minute, four wrongs do make a right! Of course we don’t.

In a note on standardisation and ensuring that the English language maintained its correct forms and was not corrupted by abbreviations, Jonathan Swift complained of shortenings such as “mob” for “mobile” and “fan” for “fanatick”. Such suggestions seem absurd now, and in centuries to come, students will look back on 20th century literature and think how ridiculous it was that they wrote “information” instead of “info”, and “people” instead of “ppl”.

When Shakespeare invented the verb “to knife”, he was breaking the “rules” of grammar that existed at that time. Today, the process of verbifying a noun is so real that the word verbification is a legit verb. Deal with it.

Language diversity and change has existed in English ever since it began. It is something that should be celebrated, not stunted and stigmatised.

Grammar “rules” and “correct” pronunciation do nothing for the survival, upholding, or improvement of the English language. All they do is paint people who speak in other dialects as inferior and uneducated. Standardisation is a class-based ideology, and a dangerous one. So next time somebody says they don’t know nothing about the local mayor, don’t form an angry mobile to attack them. Just let it slide. You know what they meant.

 

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Author: Jack Taylor

Hey, I'm Jack, a 19 year old English student at the University of Nottingham. Writing goes from creative fiction to serious non-fiction. Hope you enjoy :)

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