Ever-Changing Dialects Keep English Moving But Grammar Is Its North Star
Simon Jenkins 西蒙·詹金斯
I say tomahto and you say tomayto. My wife says dahrling and I say my dear. We all speak differently， and some of us speak different. Does it really matter？
Things matter if people think they do. I remember being with a group of Manchester businessmen whose bitterest complaint was that London stole their brightest young people and carried them off south. And not just that. As the young migrated south， they dropped their regional accents to conform to what London called “standard” English. When they came home they sounded like foreigners.
Last week the Dutch/Lancastrian linguist， Willem Hollmann， gave a new meaning to levelling up. He declared that teaching standard English and “received pronunciation” or London RP in schools discriminated against the majority of English children who did not use them at home. This should stop， he argued. There should be no such thing as correct diction because“children who do not speak received pronunciation might struggle and may feel marginalised”. Hollmann wants children to carry their Norse/Saxon grammars and exotic regional vowels to the metropolis with pride. If they fail to get posh jobs as a result， so be it.
Where Hollmann is on more difficult territory， I believe， is over grammar. As he has pointed out in his other writings， grammar holds the key to understanding in all forms of communication. The deployment of nouns and verbs， adjectives and adverbs carries with it the essence of meaning. I cannot see virtue in refusing to teach children standard English as “correct”， just to protect supposed regional sensitivities. How to say tomato does not matter. What does matter are the clarities embodied in singulars and plurals， tenses and conditionals， qualifiers and determinants. Clarity of language is crucial to the presentational skills now so important to a young person's career – and so rarely taught while time is wasted on algebra and geometry.
No one wants to see the demise of English dialects. Dialect is rooted in ancient customs and cultures. Of course， it should be honoured and studied in schools and colleges. Grammar is different. Accent we can leave to the diversity of the human marketplace. But the gods of grammar we should surely respect.