Wednesday, May 31, 2017

I speak the Queen's English

Image result for queen's english“I speak the queen’s English.” What the heck does that mean? It probably depends on where you are in the world.  During my formative years, it was something I heard repeatedly, especially from English teachers.  They’d emphasize, “You have to speak the queen’s English.” It was a mark of higher social status, of an educated elite and of the successful. But you’ve got to remember, I grew up in St. Kitts, at the time a colony of England. Locally, we spoke a dialect of English and were often chided about it by English teachers who referred to it as “bad language.” Consequently, anyone aspiring to sound educated would speak or write the “Queen’s English.”

But then I came to the US and was thrown in front of a class of 14-year-olds who quickly informed me that Sulphur was spelled Sulfur, oestrogen began with an “e” and neighbour didn’t have a “u” in it. And I defensively said, “I speak the Queen’s English”, to which a student responded, “Which queen?”

Yeah. Which queen?  Queen Elizabeth the second? Queen Victoria? Queen Anne? They did speak differently from each other. After all, language is not static. Language is dynamic.

I got the inspiration for this post from a few of my Facebook friends who keep lamenting about journalists massacring the English language. At first I tended to agree with them.  I even had some pet peeves of my own. Sometime ago some great orator took the poetic license and replaced “people” with “persons”. Now it’s so widespread the word people seem to be non-existent in the Caribbean. I simply hate to hear “persons”. And I despise the term “conversating” when people mean “conversing” (it just sounds illiterate).

However recently I’ve been disagreeing with these Facebook friends. You see, if a great orator, or the most celebrated English literary writer of today were to submit a manuscript in the 17th century using our modern language, it would be discarded as trash because it was not written in the “King/Queen’s English.” Think about it, who today says, “Thou art what thou thinkest! Thy work is but dung.”

Language is dynamic. It changes constantly. It changes even faster when social media provides a communication outlet for every Tom, Dick and Harry. Fifty years ago, the term oxymoron didn’t exist. Now it’s part of the Webster’s dictionary. A century ago there was no such thing as google until 9-year-old mathematician coined the term “googol” as a number with 100 zeros in 1920. Based on that the search Engine Google chose its name. Now we use it as a verb.  How do I know that? I googled it!

When we were younger we had a whole different vernacular from the previous generation.  When we said something was bad, it meant it was good. When we said it was the bomb, it was out of this world in greatness. Some of our slangs and sayings stuck, some of it drifted by the wayside.  Now my children have a different vernacular. A kid in my college class did well, I wrote “excellent” on his paper, he gave me a tight smile. An undergraduate TA wrote “LIT” on his paper, he beamed. My daughter uses “woke” to mean socially aware or enlightened. Some of the terms, the sentence structure, the alternate meanings (not alternate facts ) will eventually become legit in the English language. That’s because language is dynamic and we should embrace it.

So now that you’re “woke” is this post Lit? (Am I using these correctly? I’ll have to ask a teenager.)


Charles Gramlich said...

although I often lament changes in language, the ability of language to change and how that occurs is endlessly fascinating.

Liane Spicer said...

Language is indeed dynamic, and it's beautiful to watch it evolve. Neologisms are fascinating.

However! I will continue to lament the drastic fall in journalistic standards. That dude who used "persons" instead of "people" in your reference? He made a conscious, innovative choice. That is a far cry from the misspellings and malapropisms that are becoming rampant even in some established and respected media, errors which stem from ignorance or carelessness and not choice. Language is not a free-for-all. We use different registers of the language for different situations, and in situations when some formal version of Standard English is required, ignorance of the fundamentals of that standard are inexcusable. In my opinion, of course.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I agree with you Liane to the extent that we have to abide by the present day rules of language. Grammatical errors, malapropisms are indeed on the rise. Journalist are trying to get ahead of the fast paced news cycle and not as concerned with accuracy etc. However, the spoken English has a dynamism that outpaces the written English. In many cases, the written English is simply incorporating or reflecting the spoken English. Some of these written pieces now that sound downright illiterate, may be hailed as visionary masterpieces 2 decades from now, when written language reaches where spoken language is today.

Think of Bob Marley's lyrics and how they were perceived then compared to how they are perceived now.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Charles, you're right. It's very fascinating. It's dramatic when the groups have diverged so much that they can't even be considered the same language anymore. Case in point: the Creole spoken in Haiti and French.

Samantha Bryant said...

I *love* watching slang evolve. And I have plenty of opportunity, since I teach middle school :-)

@mirymom1 from
Balancing Act

Unknown said...

Your quote: I wrote "excellent" on his paper, he gave me a tight smile. An undergraduate TA wrote "LIT" on his paper, he beamed.

Well, if you not woke now...

I agree with the other commenters [some would erroneously say, "commentators"] so far, in particular Liane. She so lit when it come to literary vibes ... you feel me? I'm stoked! This convo is dope!

Jewel Amethyst said...

Lol Jeh. love the way you incorporated all that "young people's language" aka "slang" aka "Standard English of the future."

Jewel Amethyst said...

Samantha, I'm a mom of a middle schooler. I know what you mean. It seems to change everyday. It's happening so fast it feels more like a revolution than an evolution.

authorlindathorne said...

I remember and English teacher/professor I had in either the later years of high school or early college telling the classroom that the English language was one of the hardest to learn. I've found that to seem a realistic truth (and I've never learned a second language). I keep telling my writing friends to take out the word "alright" and use "all right." When you think of it though "alright actually looks more normal and makes the point yet it is poor grammar.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Linda, I've used alright so much since a child I didn't even realize that alright was all wrong. I just looked it up in the Merriam Webster dictionary and it confirms what you said, all right is the correct way to write it for formal writing but alright is commonly used in all kinds of writing, even formal. Not even the spellcheck picks it up as an error.

In either case, we're seeing the evolution of the word, just like ok is now ok. When I was a kid, I was told it should never be used except in direct speech.

authorlindathorne said...

That's interesting, Jewel, that you thought the word was spelled "alright" also. I found out by accident myself a long while back. It may be one of those words that will become proper English later on, not sure.
Over my life time I've watched parts of the English language change. Words added, slang that became proper English, sentence structure. I was also taught in college to never say "alot." It is always "a lot." That was beat into me to the point I'll probably be angry if "alot" is ever considered good grammar. Then there's the old rule that we could not end a sentence with a preposition and I had to rework so many sentences until it suddenly became okay to do so.