Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Language Wars

There has been some interesting media coverage of a new book by the Evening Standard journalist Henry Hitchings, Language Wars. Hitchings has previously written a fair bit about language, with his book on Johnson's dictionary and The Secret Life of Words both coming recommended.

Language Wars takes on the prescriptive mindset that change is bad and lays into the self-appointed rule-makers of English. It's not a new position, but it's one argued with a lot of passion if the trailers I've read so far are anything to go by, and I'm looking forward to reading the whole book later this week. The book has been reviewed in several places already. The Evening Standard liked it (obviously) but the reviewer seemed a little taken aback at Hitchings' vehemence. The Daily Telegraph, spiritual and actual home of arch-pedant Simon Heffer (predictably) slated Hitchings' stance on "rules".

In an Evening Standard article a week ago, Hitchings picked the changing nature of London English as a good example of how we should accept and embrace language change.

While it's language in general, rather than just specifically grammar, that Hitchings looks at in his article and in much of his book, it's difficult to separate the two. Throughout history, most people's ideas about language have been intertwined with their feelings about the "correctness" or otherwise of what they write and say, and grammar has always had a huge - often negative - role in this. Many of those who have assembled the "rules" have offered grammatical guidance that is often dubious in its nature. Many of the "rules" have been poorly explained or just designed to mark out one section of society as correct and the rest inferior in their usage, so it's no great surprise that to many people grammar is a word full of negative connotations.

1 comment:

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