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English - wrote good, spoke crook!

By Ian Nance - posted Tuesday, 4 November 2008


No English meaning, spelling, or grammar is permanent.

It is a changing language, shifting steadily and becoming more complex as word meanings, spelling, and syntax alter. It evolves as new words and phrases illustrate our transformed, developing lifestyles. This is more noticeable in the spoken than written form, but both alter persistently. I admire people attempting to learn English, a difficult language with origins in Latin, French, Greek, German, Celtic and Scandinavian dialects, each with different grammatical rules.

As new ideas or concepts emerge, new words express them. They may have older roots, or be created afresh for the task. Nowadays, it would be rare to hear: “Forsooth; I carest not what thou think; begone!”, but most would understand: “Oi! To hell with you; p-ss off!”

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There are delightful shades of meanings and pronunciations and how they can be applied under the rules of grammar. Although these conventions change over time, they are not manifestations of tyranny, but guidelines for common sense to avoid misunderstanding and aid clear expression.

Yet, despite reasonable education, it is disappointing that some people cannot spell properly, or speak in a correct, informal way.

But, what is “correct”? Does correctness depend on custom?

For example, it has become the norm to pronounce the number “zero” as “OH” in phone numbers. “O” is a letter, not a number, yet the wrong option is taken. Is it assumed that, one day, this will be an example of how language changes?

Many folk tend just to mouth something without thinking either of the correct way to say it, or a better way. Take the gabbling mumble of many sportsmen during media interviews; it’s hard to make sense of it (or is this a form of personality branding?).

Error is buoyed by many in the media who are well-educated, but fail to write well or speak properly.

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Some newsreaders on ABC radio and television, from whom one would expect better, are an example. This is particularly evident in the regular stressing of prepositions, rather than nouns, within a sentence.

Readers’ phrasing and delivery often indicate poor use of grammar, which diminishes their credibility. Perhaps it is due to bad writing, or their not reading through items before the bulletin to sub-edit the copy and mark up stress points.

This was one of Brian Henderson’s many attributes and helped position strongly his standing as one of the country’s most authoritative news presenters; he understood a script’s meaning and expressed it clearly.

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About the Author

Ian Nance's media career began in radio drama production and news. He took up TV direction of news/current affairs, thence freelance television and film producing, directing and writing. He operated a program and commercial production company, later moving into advertising and marketing.

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