Friday, September 30, 2016

Is the Queen's English really the Queen's English?

I was reading the newspaper last night when one sentence caught my attention:
If you want to read the entire article, it's the 29 September 2016 news report by Channel News Asia

Whether you are annoyed by this sentence depends a lot on your age, education and upbringing. Henry Fowler gives many instances of such a usage from seemingly educated sources and slams it as 'illiterate'. Eric Partridge, without any discussion, dismisses it as unacceptable and says that such a construction 'rings false'. Frederick T. Wood in his then hugely popular Current English Usage simply calls it 'incorrect'.

But nobody seems bothered about the pronouncements of these grammarians and as Sir Ernest Gowers says, such a construction is widely used, even by BBC presenters.

By Joel Rouse/ Ministry of Defence

One fine day the Queen after whom correct English is named, made a formal speech and she did it! She used the very same illiterate incorrect construction that rings false, if I may use the precise words of all 3 authoritative grammarians.

That should settle it, shouldn't it? If the Queen says it, it's literally the Queen's English. But psychologists will tell you that we humans have two behavioural traits: we love to find fault with others and we are all resistant to change. When you combine these two traits in a teacher, you get an inflexible headstrong disciplinarian who will declare that the Queen's English isn't really the Queen's English and what Fowler wrote in 1926 still holds true today.

That speech by the Queen was made a long time ago, even before I was born. And yet there are many today who will frown on such a usage. Even those of us who would like to think of ourselves as progressive continue to teach our children to avoid such a construction and I must confess I'm no exception.

So, what's the position today? Pam Peters thinks 'there is no reason to perpetuate' this. But I think the best solution is the practical advice given by Butterfield as recently as last year - avoid such a construction so as not to offend a small segment of people who think it's incorrect, or worse, illiterate.

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