:-) mostly -- McWhorter on "standard English"

Paul Johnston paul.johnston at WMICH.EDU
Fri Jan 15 17:21:12 UTC 2010

There is, however, a long tradition of code-switching, of speakers
not only speaking in different dialects within their repertoire in
different situations, but of speaking one way, and writing (and
understanding) another.  This was the rule, even among the nobility,
even the royalty, perhaps, in the 16th century.  Sir Walter Raleigh
wrote beautiful, courtly, even florid Early Modern Standard English,
and he's referred to as speaking really broad Devon.  There were
people like him right up to the 19th century, and still are in some
places.  I was collecting dialect data in Shetland in the '80s, and
found that NO one, however educated, if they were locally-born, used
Scottish Standard English, the type you'd expect.  The most they'd
do, when speaking to a Yank like me, is cut down on some of the
really localized vocabulary and some of the pronunciations, but the
bulk was Shetlandic.  This was as true of the curator of the local
museum, an Edinburgh University graduate and well-read, as it was of
a herring fisherman.  Yet all the print--or the bulk of it--is in
StdE.  So, yes, you can have a command of the power language
passively, concede by using (borrowing) some of the formal-register
vocabulary, and still be speaking something else.  It would sound
quite shocking to a Londoner or a Glaswegian, for example (and for us
Americans, we might well have comprehension problems) but if you're
speaking to other locals--which you would be most of the time in that
place--you're perfectly fine.

Paul Johnston
On Jan 15, 2010, at 11:47 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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