The importance of proper and improper English

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“LET’S talk properly.” Tom Sherrington had little reason to think that his blog post, so titled, would cause controversy. A British consultant and former head teacher, he had called on educators to work harder at getting their students to stop saying things like “We done lots of great activities” and “I ain’t done nothing.” He recycled the blog post recently on Twitter—to a fierce and (to him) surprising backlash from linguists.

Led by Rob Drummond, a linguist at Manchester Metropolitan University, and joined by Oliver Kamm, a journalist at the Times, critics focused in particular on the word “properly”, along with related words like “correct”. The ding-dong perfectly encapsulates the way academic linguists (especially sociolinguists, who focus on things like class) see standard English, and how teachers do.

The biggest misunderstanding is about the nature of dialects, especially urban ones. (Country dialects get a pass, for…Continue reading

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