If we should speak proper when in the company of people who speak proper, should a white, Englishman speak in Jamaican patois when in the company of Afro-Carribeans or lowland Scottish when in the presence of a Glaswegian?

I have a feeling that if I attempted to do so I would wake up in hospital.

The defining of proper by a particular social grouping in society is one of the ways that such groups define themselves as proper and everyone else as not proper. It is elitist and a way of controlling those not in the group. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the Church of England which is still mainly controlled by the Oxford / Cambridge / Durham Universities elite. They decide what is acceptable speech for a minister. The main casualties of this linguistic elitism are those from social classes, other than the elite, seeking promotion in the Church, either lay or clerical. I wonder how often a "well spoken," but pastorally crap, priest has been appointed to the episcopacy in preference to a chav priest with the pastoral abilities of St. Francis of Assisi.




  1. Everyone is not required to speak every dialect. We each need to be able to speak the dialect of our own group AND standard English.

    Is there an arbitrariness to what constitutes standard English? Yes, of course. Nevertheless, it exists and (for what it’s worth) is also evolving.

  2. Huh! Standard English has evolved well beyond standard in your neck of the woods, Ellie. And as American English is now the Lingua Franca it is obvious that “standard” means “as decided by those in power.”

  3. Sadly, true, MadPriest. Sadly true.

    Language is often used as a weapon. I don’t think it should be. I really don’t know what a solution to that would be – one that is feasible, I mean. I hate to see someone disempowered just because he or she is unable to speak standard English (however that has manifested itself currently.)

    AND, I completely agree with you regarding what you said about the Church.

  4. Personally I think we should all go with the BBC. They sometimes get a bit trendy, nowadays, but on the whole, they employ a “standard English” acceptable to toffs and plebs alike 🙂

  5. It’s not about dialect, accents or region-specific language.
    If you’re right and the churh is controlled by well educated people, then the only thing that makes sense is to try and educate everyone else to the same standard.
    There’s no point leaving them inarticulate, unable to plough through a well-written text because they’ve never come across many of the words, and then sitting back and complaining that they don’t have acceess to what educated people take as their birthright.

    It’s only in this country that people believe education is elitist rather than enabling and are proud of being uneducated.

  6. But only a small percentage of people in the world speak BBC English.
    For Americans, Standard English means the Midwest.
    And BBC English wasn’t based on power?

  7. Power dynamics creeps into everything – even blogs. However, the point of church should be connection – speaking to the people in a manner that stengthens the connection. I’m thinking in the moment here of the New Zealand Prayer Book. Nothing is more painful to listen to than a liberal middle class white man trying to speak urban hip hop. However, adamantly insisting on perfect elocution/pronunciation etc will also alienate one from the same people one is trying to reach. Perhaps honesty is the best approach. Allowing folks to speak in a manner to which they are accustomed and attempting to learn their slang and expressions to better understand them without attempting to mimic them. However, within the corporate world, the “official” word – one must be able to communicate effectively. There is a time and place for everything. I would never present myself informally in a job interview, for example.

  8. George Bernard Shaw described the impact of accent and usage well in Pygmalion. It is not really a decision on the part of the upper crust. The fact is that we hire, marry, promote and generally advance those who sound, look and act like us. I doubt there is anything that can be done about that even if we agree it is a problem.

    Exercising rights is often costly. If you elect to speak in a creole, you identify yourself to the society.

    In my view the decision to not teach standard English to certain segments of society is the real crime. Young people can certainly learn to speak and for that matter dress and act, in a way that opens doors. We used to teach that, now we think we are being “accepting” and we leave them without tools they could use.


  9. Abuses of power, the unwillingness to understand otherness or take the time to do so, and being plain shit scared of being sacked/sued for asking people to repeat/clarify themselves. Standard does mean as defined by those with structural power. People with personal power who challenge the standard, tend to get their heads stoved in, made redundant, sent on missionary work or these days become members of parliament as opposed to bankers, dependent upon their class.
    Mind you we’re not allowed class analysis anymore so I’ll be in trouble again.

  10. Power dynamics creeps into everything – even blogs.

    It may seem that way to some. But only if they are grumpy, argumentative and paranoid.

  11. Mind you we’re not allowed class analysis anymore so I’ll be in trouble again.

    Well, not around here (except with the grumpy, argumentative, paranoid and fecking PC crowd).

  12. “To use the same words is not a sufficient guarantee of understanding; one must use the same words for the same genus of inward experience; ultimately one must have one’s experiences in common.”

    What do you reckon?
    Nietszche,by the way.

  13. Being able to speak modern standard English isn’t about earning respect in the local pub or down at the local marketplace. It is about suitability to work for a firm with offices and trading partners all over the world. Young people don’t need to know standard English to sound “posh” while talking about Jane Austin over tea. They need to speak it well enough to be understood when doing business with Kolkata and Dubai. Those are the people that companies will need to hire.

    It is a vastly interconnected international world and English is the international language. Those who don’t speak standard English will be unable to participate. The doors will be closed.

    Fight for equality for everyone, of course, but if you know a child whose future you value then, for their sake, teach them standard English.

  14. We are in danger in assuming that kids who say innit in front of teachers and parents to annoy, or when speaking to each other as a private in crowd language, won’t be able to switch to business speak when they want to earn some money.

    Personally, I think Emma Thompson has forgotten her youth (if she was ever allowed to have one by her parents).

  15. Some of them can’t switch, MP. That’s a failure of the educational system. We also have standardized spelling now, which also didnt exist in Shakespeare’s day.

    Of course the language evolves. But that doesn’t mean it’s a free for all.

    Erika, that’s true here as well.

  16. Renzmqt, When it comes to “a middle class white man speaking hip hop,” Fr. Timothy Holder seems to have done a pretty good job of it. At least the members of his parish, Trinity Church of Morrisania in the South Bronx, NYC, seemed to think so. He left them with the “Hip Hop Prayer Book” and helped draw many people in that neighbor hood into the church who would have never considered it if he had not reached out to them as he did.

  17. So I’m assuming that “estuary English” will be perfectly acceptable to teach in school, right, just like the Baltimore school system some years back attempted to teach “Ebonics” as a legit dialect of American English?

  18. One of the best stories I heard from parishioners in Newfoundland was by a fisherman, who recounted how he was speaking to some American tourists, and so he slowed down his speech and avoided slang. Then one of his buddies came along, and they had a few words. The Americans then asked the fisherman, “What other language do you speak here besides English?”

    When I was practicing law, the firm I was with represented a lot of construction contractors and developers. One of the female attorneys used to tell the new associates that she quickly learned to curse, so as to fit in with them, and that greatly enhanced her stature, and put her on the fast track to partner.

    Language is contextual

  19. Ebonics has been recognized as an authentic dialect of English, related to the African Gullah dialect, but it still won’t get you hired in any job requiring interfacing with the public. Teaching students standard acceptable English will open doors to them that knowing only slang dialects will close…..

  20. Paul, “whom” has died and “myself” is in danger of becoming meaningless as it is used so many places where its actual meaning does not make sense.


  21. I can tell you that, as a former book editor, nothing stops the flow of reading faster than a real howler in the grammar department…. And admittedly, some of the spelling I see is so far off I can’t always tell what word was intended to express the thought. WV=”maldume” – I rest my case…..

  22. I also find the murder of irregular verbs particularly disturbing. In the States, “pled” is no longer a word having been replaced by “pleaded.” This one is now so institutionalized that the Google spell checker sees ‘pleaded’ as a valid word!



  23. I remember working at the Central Reservation Office for Walt Disney World; I took reservations for the resorts and the restaurants of Walt Disney World.

    Among the many amenities guests to WDW can enjoy are the “character breakfasts” in various restaurants on Disney property. For example, at the Grand Floridian, many of the characters from Mary Poppins will walk through the restaurant greeting people and signing autographs. Or, over at the Crystal Palace restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and Eeyore greet the guests.

    So I was appalled to hear American Disney agents, who were booking these breakfasts for our guests, saying the word “breakfasses” when they told a guest on the line about them.

    “Breakfasses”? WTF??

    I also had a coworker who would put an S on the end of the name of the company I work for. There’s no S on the end of the company’s name. You wouldn’t answer the phones at Boeing like this: “Boeing’s, how may I help you?” It’s not Boeing’s. It’s just Boeing. How difficult is that? Apparently quite difficult for some.

    Drives me nuts.

  24. Jim: another word that is almost lost is “oriented.” Most people say “orientated.” WTF??

  25. OK, I’ll admit my ignorance here. What does the abbreviation ‘wv’ stand for ? I see it all the time in our comments section…

    All I can come up with is ‘West Virginia, ‘Westminster Version,’ or ‘working voltage’ 😉