In a manner of speaking…

Some decades ago, written and spoken English were generally similar. Oxford or BBC English was spoken as it was written, but those of us with regional or less conventional accents normally spoke very differently from the way we wrote, ie, with much less care and clarity.  There is more recently an increasing tendency for all of us to write as we speak.

We British tend to follow American trends like lapdogs. We adopt all American habits, fashion and culture. And we even surrender our English language so that it would more appropriately be called the American language. Some obvious capitulations include the spelling of words like programme (program), honour (honor), manoeuvre, (maneuver), civilise (civilize), to practise (to practice) and racquet (racket). They don’t recognise the word ‘fortnight’ and we don’t often use their word ‘oftentimes’.

Maybe schoolchildren can’t handle the admittedly unphonetic spelling of ‘through’ when it is pronounced ‘thru’, and so the word becomes Americanised and spelt as pronounced, first in advertisements and text-messaging and increasingly in general written usage. Spelling is one thing, but what about pronunciation?

For the English ‘lever’ rhymes with ‘beaver’; for Americans with ‘never’. Most English have now surrendered to the American pronunciation of ‘schedule’ as ‘skedule’ (the way that we pronounce ‘school’). Confusing?

Nowadays I receive one-word text-message responses saying ‘yeah’ (yes). In various publications I have come across ‘yuh know’ and ‘how’s yer family?’. This is literally writing the way we commonly speak. So, how confused are our children going to be when learning how to write – and to speak?

‘O’right?’ Until recently, this was widely used as a greeting, meaning ‘Are you alright?’ or ‘How are you?’ The response should be ‘I’m well’, not ‘I’m good’, which means something quite different. We write ‘I should have gone’ but I have heard English and Americans say ‘I should of went.’

When we can’t find the right word, it is becoming increasingly common to invent one. ‘Mischievous’ is thus substituted by ‘mischievious’, while, ‘heinous’ becomes ‘henious’.  ‘Phenomena’, ‘criteria’ and ‘media’, all plural words, are frequently used with a singular verb.

Just as most Japanese cannot pronounce the ‘r’ or the ‘l’ in English, cockneys can’t handle the letters ‘th’ either in ‘with’ or ‘thirty’. They write ‘with thirty-three’, but they say ‘wiv firty-free’.

The written word ‘nothing’ rings out as ‘nuffink’. Likewise, most folk I know from Yorkshire can’t say the word ‘but’. They use it frequently but make it rhyme with ‘put’. But then, surely, ‘put’ should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘but’ – like a golfer’s ‘putt’. Confusing?

To say or to text ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m going to sneeze’ requires too much effort. Much easier: ‘I dunno’ and ‘I’m gonna sneeze’.

English spelling and pronunciation have always been very odd. Maybe we should speak as we used to write in the good old 50s.

Cool! Innit?

David Worboys’s opinions are his own and are not necessarily representative of those of the publishers, advertisers or sponsors.

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David Worboys

Offering a unique insight into everything from politics to food to sport, David is one of the Euro Weekly News´ most popular columnists.