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Proper English – is there such a thing?

June 20, 2012

This excellent question is posed in an interesting way by Kieran Ball who is currently studying English at university. Kieran and I will both be very interested in your comments.

Is there? Parents are always correcting their children when they have made a mistake in their use of language or grammar, but what are they comparing it to? Looking across Britain it is clear that there are hundreds if not thousands of different forms of English – regional, cultural, occupational – none of which would be deemed as Proper English in that parent’s book. Or would it? For example if the parent and child lived in the city of Liverpool, the regional dialect and accent of Scouse would be extremely prominent so surely this must have an influence on the parent’s concept of Proper English. The child in this case would be taught “Proper English” from a young age that must have Scouse influences in it. Even when the child reaches school age and continues to be taught English in school, Scouse would continue to have its influence. And it’s not just Liverpool. It could be anywhere – Newcastle, London, Birmingham – all of these places will have aspects of the prominent accents and dialects which would take a place in somebody’s understanding of what proper English is. And again it’s not just related to geography. It would depend on hundreds of different influences – parents’ upbringing and education, the child’s friendship group, the child’s education and so on and so on.

So is there really a “Proper English”? How can there be? There are too many different influences to prevent there from being a set one. Each individual’s perception of “Proper English” will be different from everybody else’s.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. John A F Hopkins permalink
    October 29, 2013 03:15

    English, throughout the Commonwealth, which is based on the English of a properly educated Briton, is the standard for “proper English”. “American English” is another question.

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