My English is Better than Your English! Part 2

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Oct 30 00:22:18 UTC 2008

Grammar Guy
Tuesday, October 28, 2008My English is Better than Your English! Part 2
In my last entry, I discussed standard language compared tononstandard language, focusing mainly on variations in pronunciationand vocabulary, and besides mentioning a few differences in the pastand current language of Michigan compared to standard AmericanEnglish, I reported what my British friend Mick O'Hare had to say onthe subject. Now I'd like to mention some more differences betweenstandard and nonstandard language, and also get a little into what weterm substandard language.
I come from New York City. To this day people don't stand in line whenwaiting to get into someplace; they stand on line. That's an exampleof nonstandard American English. But in one part of the city, it'scommon to hear people say things like You want I should do that now?instead of Do you want me to do that now? And even though it's fastdying out, there was a time when it was common in a certain part ofthe city to hear people switch the pronunciation of "oy" with "er," soyou'd hear things like I need some erl for my car and That Britisharistocrat is called the Oyl of Devon. So should a teacher in New YorkCity teach stand on line along with stand in line, and should thatteacher tell students it's okay to say You want I should do that now?or She's a lousy cook. The goil doesn't even know how to berl water!?
My answer to the first question is yes, stand on line can be taughtalongside stand in line since ESOL students in New York willundoubtedly hear native speakers say on line, but the teacher shouldemphasize which one is the standard phrase. My answer to the otherquestion is no, teachers should not teach that it's okay to say Youwant I should do that now? or The goil doesn't even know how to berlwater. That's because such grammar and such pronunciations are notstandard or even nonstandard English; they're simply substandardEnglish, and substandard English is unacceptable as a teachablevariation. Such grammar and pronunciation basically fall into the samecategory as ain't and double negatives. They exist, but the consensusof opinion is that they're substandard forms. Sometimes it may takechecking into to decide if something is a regional variation(nonstandard) or substandard.
At any rate, here are the questions I put to my Australian colleague,Penny Cameron, to get her take on things, and Penny's answers:
Penny, does Aussie English have regional variations that are sooutstanding that you don't have a problem recognizing which part ofthe country somebody comes from?
There are regional lexical items, and some regional variation in, forinstance, long or short /a/ in words like Newcastle. Please visit theAustralian Word Map for a work in progress on this very topic.
Is there a standard Aussie English that kids are taught in school thatdiffers from their everyday speech?
We try to teach a standard English, but the kids undermine us the waythey always did.
Is there any prejudice against certain regional variations rather thanothers? Do some Aussies poke fun at the way other Aussies speak?
Not really. We make cruel jokes about other states, suggesting thatTasmanians are inbred and Sydneysiders brash and property obsessed,and we sometimes say that Queenslanders drawl.
Are there words or pronunciations in one regional variation thatAussies in other parts of the country wouldn't understand?
Very few, I believe. See SCOSE (the Standing Committee on SpokenEnglish) and the Word Map.
We have a steadying influence in the Australian BroadcastingCorporation (ABC) based on the BBC. Apart from giving us informednon-partisan discussion (the politicians hate it), the ABC hostsSCOSE, the Standing Committee on Spoken English.
This is from their website: "The ABC's Standing Committee on SpokenEnglish (SCOSE) this year celebrates its fiftieth year. It evolvedfrom earlier groups which had existed since 1944.
"However, the brief for previous incarnations of SCOSE was to maintainstandard English pronunciations. In 1952 it was recognised that theABC should make some departure from BBC practice and recogniseAustralian English.
"The role of SCOSE is to provide a reference source for broadcastersand journalists through the Language Research Unit, which ismaintained by News and Current Affairs.
"Broadcasters and journalists can check all aspects of spoken andwritten English ― pronunciation, grammar, spelling, usage and style.The Committee also monitors the use of language in a broad senseacross all ABC platforms to ensure it is conforming to communitystandards and the ABC's editorial policies.The Committee meets once amonth to discuss language policy and usage, queries from staff, andany observations or complaints from the public. Members include staffrepresentatives from program producing areas across radio, televisionand online."
The SCOSE Academic Adviser Professor, Pam Peters, is AssociateProfessor of Linguistics at Macquarie University. Professor Peterssits on the Macquarie Dictionary Advisory Board and is the author ofCambridge University Australian English Style Guide, my constant deskcompanion.
However, we certainly sound different to other people. Please see thestory at the beginning of the most recent Ozwords (Oct 2007) about theunfortunate Australian woman who got arrested.

I did, Penny, and I was amazed at what happened to her. Incredible! Ihope all my readers will take a look at the story and see whatmisunderstandings can arise from one form of English to another. Andthank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us, Penny, and foroffering such good links to visit.
As I said last time, I'd love to hear from you folks, so please shareany reactions or thoughts you have with us by leaving a comment.

posted by Grammar Guy at 7:53 PM

-- **************************************N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service toits membersand implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owneror sponsor ofthe list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members whodisagree with amessage are encouraged to post a rebuttal. (H. Schiffman, Moderator)*******************************************

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list