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tinyfaery's avatar

If the Queens English is changing, can we all just agree that there is no such thing as proper English?

Asked by tinyfaery (42541points) January 31st, 2009

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On top of this, new words are being invented all the time, spellings are changing, and acronyms are replacing groups of words. Is this a sign of the apocalypse, or is our living language just evolving? Are you resistant? Frankly, I kind of like it. Let’s reinvent everything!

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36 Answers

cage's avatar

I think you just have to look at me to know what proper English is. *chortle

Language does change over time. I wouldn’t go about asking you
“Howe art thou?” and “Faire thee well”
would I?
even though as a small in joke I actually do do that to people
Anyway, that was proper English, what we have now is proper English, and there will always be proper English.

Bluefreedom's avatar

@tinyfaery. I’ll second the concept that there is no such thing as proper English anymore. You described in succinctly and accurately in your details – the language is evolving and it always will.

I don’t see any need to be resistant really because people will use whatever words they want to develop and demonstrate their vocabularies regardless of what might or might not be common usages. I’ve been an articulate person much of my life and I built my vocabulary from reading tons of books and sometimes I’ll find a new word here and there and it will just click with me. Other new words I just find humorous and/or inane.

gailcalled's avatar

I think the goal is to be readable and clear and understood. It helps the reader if there is some consistency. Too much linguistic freedom leads to garble and often frizzers.

There is still a hierarchy of language uses, from texting to The New York Review of Books. I know what I choose, although I agree that change is, indeed, inevitable. There will always be standards in some arenas.

Here’s what Alfredaprufrock said, in part, about copywriting “It requires that you have an engaging, creative writing style, are able to break complicated information down to terms that people can understand, and learn a lot of diverse information, quickly.”

Her answer mirrored the style she was describing- engaging, creative, and clear.

marinelife's avatar

Let me chime in with the “there is still proper English” crowd. I believe there is a vast difference between an evolving language and an anything goes language. Were the latter to become extant, the language would devolve into a pidgin hodgepodge—not an improvement.

As to using bad, careless or just plain wrong English, giving into that is much like the saying, “Eat excrement, ten million flies can’t be wrong.”

gailcalled's avatar

Now, being clairvoyant, I know that Marina is going to craft a response that I will both understand and enjoy.

gailcalled's avatar

And I was right. Right on.

augustlan's avatar

Proper English does change and evolve. Some of us mourn that, some celebrate it, others adapt with no emotion either way. However, there must be some central conventions that hold it all together. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to understand each other at all.

fireside's avatar

I agree that there is a difference between a lexicon of words and the usage rules for how to properly convey thoughts.

tinyfaery's avatar

So what about the possessive s? Is that just too much. Can we all communicate without it?

fireside's avatar

Honestly, I would just have to leave if I heard this kind of debate in a public setting:

“Apostrophes denote possessions that are no longer accurate, and are not needed,” [Councilor Martin Mullaney, chair of the city’s transport scrutiny committee] said. “More importantly, they confuse people. If I want to go to a restaurant, I don’t want to have an A-level (high school diploma) in English to find it.”

But grammarians say apostrophes enrich the English language.

“They are such sweet-looking things that play a crucial role in the English language,” said Marie Clair of the Plain English Society, which campaigns for the use of simple English. “It’s always worth taking the effort to understand them, instead of ignoring them.”

AstroChuck's avatar

A veces, no entiendo ni papa.

Bluefreedom's avatar

^^I have no idea what AC said but I’ll bet it’s funny. :o)

gailcalled's avatar

Sometimes I don’t understand or the pope. Can that be right?

scamp's avatar

Pope or potato? The translator I used said potato, and I just had to laugh!

gailcalled's avatar

I found that too , but el Papa is also the Pope. And if you translate backwards, potato becomes el patate.

You say “potato,” I say “el Pope.” Let’s call the whole thing off. (Or would I be clearer if I said, “Lets call the hole thing off.”

deusexmachina's avatar

Linguistics is descriptive, not prescriptive. Languages change whether or not those who regulate it want it to — oh look! I just ended a sentence with a preposition! “Fake” rules like that are dying because they’re stupid rules and no one follows them [well, those who do sound stuck-up].

Believing that language is not changing is a position that is impossible to hold.

But I did LOL at the “apocalypse” part of your question.

deusexmachina's avatar

“As to using bad, careless or just plain wrong English, giving into that is much like the saying, “Eat excrement, ten million flies can’t be wrong.””

Wow, just wow. Explain to me what exactly “plain wrong” English is? (Hint: It should be “plainly wrong.”) You can’t; there is no person that speaks textbook English.

AstroChuck's avatar

A veces, no entiendo ni papa means At times, I don’t understand a thing.
Literal translation is At times, I don’t understand neither potato.
Nothing to do with the pontiff.

Bluefreedom's avatar

I knew I was right. It was funny.

morphail's avatar

The notion of proper English arose in the 18th century when prescriptivists tried to codify English. But standard English isn’t intrinsically better than other kinds of English, it’s just a standard. And if the rules of standard English change, it doesn’t mean we’re giving in, it just means that standard English is changing, as languages do.

If all the usage books disappeared tomorrow, nothing would happen to English that hasn’t been happening to languages for thousands of years.

marinelife's avatar

@deusexmachina Try as I might, until your post, I don’t see any reference to spoken English in this thread or the original question.

Sadly, wrong usage is rampant. Here’s one example:

Excerpt: “Despite its appearance all over these websites, ‘prepatory’ is just plain wrong. I would not be tempted to send my kids to a school where nobody apparently knows this.”

There’s even a rather good book on the subject.

Also, I’m sorry you apparently are not familiar with the phrase “just plain wrong,” but it is correct as written.

Here are some examples:

The Bailout- Just Plain Wrong

Estimates, Guesstimates, Obsolete & Just Plain Wrong: Severin Borenstein’s PV Costs Paper

Just plain wrong

Withholding information from legislators is just plain wrong

galileogirl's avatar

It depends if you are trying to communicate with everyone or just a particular group. To communicate successfully with a wide audience you need to use standard grammer and punctuation. New words are added and other words drop out of favor over time but they are used to clarify rather than the acceptance of slang into standard language,

People may use ‘ain’t’ in everyday language but not in any kind of academic, formal or business situation. To do so signals a lack of education and if the user is educated it is an attempt to hide it.

“Say it aint so, Joe” is descriptive. “I aint done nothing wrong” is not. In the same vein “We was conversating” and “I borrowed him some money” will always indicate an uneducated speaker.

As far as slang or juvenile argot, it has no permanance. Bad for good can float in and out so quickly that when it is used in casual speech you can never be sure what it means-anti-communication.

A few years ago “Peace out” was popping up among my students. I took great pleasure in telling them that was a favorite saying in their grandparents’ generation so maybe it was ‘uncool’.

jlm11f's avatar

Man. I want a job where the hardest thing I have to mull over is whether I should drop or keep apostrophes in street signs.

gailcalled's avatar

And remember what Churchill, I think, said decades ago. “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

gailcalled's avatar

@morphail: Noted, and thanks. It’s still an wonderful put-down. Too bad that there is no specific attribution.

deusexmachina's avatar

@Marina, so you agree that English rules (like not using the -ly suffix) are arbitrary and therefore cannot really be exemplified in one “standard”—now, yes, there is a certain style / usage that everyone can understand, but who understands what differs wildly. Prepatory* is not correct because it doesn’t correspond to a real word in the English (spoken) language, not because you say it’s wrong. Capice?

Also, I don’t understand exactly what the difference between spoken and written English… written English is actually inferior to spoken English since it has the ability to change (cf. Shakespeare)

marinelife's avatar

@deusexmachina Clearly, we don’t speak the same language.

1. No, I do not agree that rules are arbitrary.

2. The muddy logic of what you are saying about incorrect usage of prepatory rather than the correct preparatory totally escapes me.

3. I can’t even have a discussion with someone who does not understand the difference between written and spoken language.

A bientot.

fireside's avatar

I’m glad someone responded to this. I was stumped by the logic. Capeesh?

This school seems to be on the fence about the use of the word “prepatory” since it uses it wrong in the page title, but gets it right in the Header.

deusexmachina's avatar

@Marina, being condescending to seem right is so overdone. Have you ever even taken a linguistics course?

morphail's avatar

I’m not sure what deusexmachina means about written English. Language is primarily spoken, and change is a fact of all spoken language. Written language is a representation of a language at a given point in time.

marinelife's avatar

“b (sic)eing condescending to seem right is so overdone. Have you ever even taken a linguistics course?”

Condescending? You tell me.

the100thmonkey's avatar

There’s “the queen’s English”, and there’s the English the queen speaks.

Nuff said.

GeorgeGee's avatar

We shall continue to fight the good fight, though it is a war we shall never win. The Queen’s English is an effort to communicate clearly with dignity, and to avoid offending others in the process. That is something worth fighting for.

bea2345's avatar

Many years ago, as a clerk, I saw a diplomatic note with spelling and grammatical errors. Notes of this kind have legal force, so it is fortunate that it was returned for correction before being dispatched. Yes, Alberta, there is such a thing as proper English.

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