Friday 23 November 2018

Grammar: Why we all speak 'incorrectly' - even the Secretary of State for Education

There's an illusion that posh people or people in authority speak 'correctly' or that they speak 'standard English'. (Please note that I wrote 'speak' there not 'write'.)

Just for fun, I made notes while Damian Hinds (Secretary of State for Education) was talking on the 'Today' programme this morning. Like all of us, as he spoke, he revised what he was saying. If you transcribe this into writing, it is not 'correct' even though as you listen to it, it sounds 'correct'.

For example, he is someone (like all of us) who repeats what he says e.g. words or phrases like 'are', 'in', 'it'll be', 'to', 'it's', 'we want' and 'that'. He is also (like all of us) someone who has a little phrase which he repeatedly slots in in front of nouns and verbs. In his case it's 'you know' which he says as 'y'know'.

To be clear, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this. It's just the way we all speak. We do this a lot, a bit, or not very often, depending on e.g. how stressed we are, how relaxed we are, how prepared we are, and so on. Interesting that Hinds was probably only stressed a very small amount - at least he sounded very confident, he was talking about things that he was obviously very familiar with, and of course he was aware that he was talking on radio. Even so, his speech was full of these revisions, hesitations and repetitions.

Accounts of language that children in primary schools have to learn, leaves out or marginalises the things that I'm talking about here. They are seen as trivial or irrelevant. That may be the case, (though I don't think so) but leaving them out has the effect of leading people to say or think that 'posh people speak 'correctly' while the rest of us struggle along in our 'incorrect' ways, speaking local or 'sectional' dialects and slangs.