Proper English

I adore the creativity and diversity in language.

English particularly causes such passionate debates. Many folks have definitive rules in their minds—especially those of us working in literature—regardless of which wrung we stand.

I am a massive fan of dialects in life and literature. It’s something that took me a long time to appreciate. As a child, I was taught that regional dialects were a bastardisation of English—they were regarded as dirty. And my young brain felt this to the core—I was stupid or dirty to speak it. This conditioning ran deep, to the point my ears winced towards hearing my own tongue spoken. Growing up in east Glasgow, I was in perpetual horror about how we spoke—our nature, our dialect and culture. I hate that I bought into this attitude hammered in by teachers from such a tender age—devastatingly poor teaching. It prompts self-hate that poisons roots. It’s archaic; the flogging for the so-called incorrect use of English has created ruin in countries like my own. It’s wiped out beautiful languages, demolishing roots of nations and cultures that should have been embraced. The Celtic nations around England have felt this deeply.

In writing, clever use of dialect, particularly in dialogue, adds character authenticity—showcasing communicative repertoire as displayed in real-life. And I am not against it in the narration either, if it fits the work, showcase that diversity with confidence.

Not all readers will ‘get it’, unless it’s a dialect they have experienced. Here, there is a preference for proper English, i.e. Standard British, American or Canadian English. Where the use of non-standard variants, dialects and colloquialisms are branded as errors and bad English. This labelling displays a lack of understanding, ignorance and/or prejudices, or simply the increased reading challenge can create a defensive attitude in a reader. People often feel stupid when they don’t understand something they think they should, so instead of putting the work in, the go-to is to attack the writer for their use of improper language. I’ve struggled too but taking in a piece that incorporates real-life diversity colours literature in a way that standardising the use of English can never do. Writing, storytelling, communication is an art-form — it’s not a flat pack piece of furniture that must be constructed one way. This is especially true of fiction writing. Embracing linguistic diversity is how we can travel the world together without leaving the reading nook. This is how we learn. And no one is above that. Language and how we communicate are ever-changing, and why shouldn’t they?

Gatekeepers of English, who respect and guard the practice of Standard English only, don’t understand or appreciate the beautiful complexity of diversity in language.

Author: Natasha Sinclair

Editor & Writer, based in central Scotland.

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