Why Doesn’t Everyone Use “Proper” English?
I used to be a language snob, complete with William Safire trading card. Growing up with teacher parents who corrected my grammar made me hypersensitive to language rules. (“Where’s he at? Between the ‘a’ and the ‘t’!” and “You’re ‘done’? Let’s stick a fork in you!”) Plus, excelling at grammar, punctuation and spelling tempted me to think people who didn’t speak “properly” were uneducated or lazy. How could you hear correct grammar at school and (sometimes!) on TV and still say, “I didn’t do nothing” or “I should of went fishing”?
My “Aha!” Moment
Then I had a daughter with dyslexia, who not only couldn’t follow the inconsistent, irrational rules of English spelling (How do you pronounce “ghoti”?)* and grammar, but still doesn’t remember the differences between (oops! among) to, two and too.
Another sea-change in my attitude occurred when I read The Story of English by McCrum, Cran and MacNeil. As I railed against Ebonics in the seventies, I was shocked to read that my own “proper” language was the product of hundreds of years of the same sort of evolutionary bastardization. English began as West Germanic, with the Angles, Saxons and Jutes arriving in England and pushing the Celts westward. It was changed by invading Norse speakers in the 9th and 10th centuries and Norman-French speakers in the 11th. During the Renaissance, French, Latin, Greek and Italian influences changed the language and grammar. Scholars tidied up English in the 16th and 17th, but punctuation was still haphazard in the early 17th century. English has been enlarged by words and constructions from Asia, the Caribbean, Africa and Native Americans. Continue reading The Shocking Truth about “Proper” English: How Millennials are Changing our Punctuation and Grammar and What it Means to Us as Writers