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Good grammer

Sam Horsey

Sam Horsey

UK grammar changes with geography, history and time – a well-known example is the word ‘gay’; which has different meanings depending on a person’s age: and when we buy a book written in the 1980s, the grammar and wording will be differently edited to the same book published last year.

Worldwide, the English language has changed from what we learnt was ‘correct’ English. Our teachers, our children, their teachers  and so on, have learnt a version of English which was correct, according to the English language curriculum of the day.

Each generation brings a shift in the use of grammar and, occasionally, in spelling – because language moves forward. Idioms change – eventually to be followed by, in some cases, changes in spelling and, occasionally, the meaning of the occasional word

(As an interesting aside, the -ize word ending has been in use in UK English since the sixteenth century and is not a recent Americanism. My mother still claims the same about the word ‘gotten’. Although I’ve checked it in The Cambridge Dictionary and still don’t believe it – though, as an EFL teacher, her dictionary is possibly more up-to-date than my 30-year-old edition of the OED).

The Standard English that we’re taught at school has and will change to the point that, although we can still speak and write English to each other, we’re just not on the same linguistic page anymore.

Often this is because of changing technology – my mother-in-law is constantly baffled by her local council’s blithe assumption that she can go onto their web page (and email them if she has a problem). Not to mention QR codes and the other functions available on a smartphone.

Changes in a word’s intensity: is a thing ‘good’, ‘amazing’ or ‘awesome’ – it depends on which geographical version of English we’re using: US, UK or Australian?

The Oxford English Dictionary is, itself, updated annually to take account of new words entering the English language.

Where does this leave UK English writers as the language changes? Do we hark back to a golden era of language purity, ignoring anything that doesn’t prove our point? Or take a more pragmatic view of language evolution (whether approved of or not)?

As writers, do we believe written English cannot change from one generation to the next? Or accept that language needs to change to describe the world around it?

What do you think?

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