A Web of Worries Essay
Every language has a web, woven together with words and expressions that are changing constantly. However, as language changes, artificial rules are imposed, creating what is known as a cobweb of worries. Linguists have discovered that certain styles are of speech are appropriate for certain situations. For example, while someone might speak in a colloquial way around friends and acquaintances, they will switch to more formal speak when in polite company, such as talking to a teacher or during a job interview. Essentially, there is no right or wrong way of speaking.
Up until the 1700s, the English language was fairly fluid. In the 1700s, linguists such as Jonathan Swift were concerned with ‘ascertaining’ and ‘fixing’ the English language and the creation of Doctor Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language saw the standardisation of English. Standard English or Received Pronunciation is based on south-east midlands dialects, (London, Oxford and Cambridge) where most of the upper class lived. As the upper class had great influence, most people saw Standard English as the speech of educated people. In Victorian etiquette books, not only was proper conduct taught but proper language too. These rules are artificial, unlike actual rules of the English language. For example, the English language follows the subject-verb-object linguistic pattern, for example I (subject) ate (verb) an apple (object). Descriptivist linguists believe it is important that actual rules and artificial rules are separated, as this kind of prescriptivism makes people insecure of their own speech, as so-called bad English is often linked to crime, poor education and lack of intelligence.
Examples of rules that have changed over time are double negatives and tos. In early English and languages such as Spanish, double negatives actually emphasised negativity. For example, Chaucer made extensive use of double, triple and even quadruple negative in his Canterbury Tales. In Standard English, two negatives cancel each other out and weaken the affirmative. This rule can be observed as early as 1762, with Bishop Robert Lowth’s book A Short Introduction to English Grammar with Critical Notes. In the 17th century, to, two and too were interchangeable.
There are three primary prescriptivist attitudes to language change. The first is Damp Spoon Syndrome, which describes language change being caused by sloppy and lazy use of language, similar to dipping a damp spoon in sugar. The problem with this theoryis that the only truly lazy language is spoken by drunks, proven by a study at the University of Texas, where students were given alcohol and asked to read out loud. As they got even more drunk, they began drawing out their constants and pronouncing sounds such as ‘ch’ and ‘th’ as ‘sh’, as the alcohol is affecting their coordination. The omission in spoken speech of past tense endings is sometimes claimed to be laziness, as in 'Pamela jump...