Lower order letters

September 7, 2017

In her review of Janet Sorensen’s Strange Vernaculars, Elspeth Jajdelska says the book “explains how the speech of criminals, provincials, the labouring classes and sailors was recreated in print to fit the needs of the nation state”.

All languages started in the mouths of ordinary people. The lower orders did more to standardise English (and simplify its grammar) than in most languages, because English remained their main language for the three centuries after 1066 when the upper classes used mainly French. Sadly, they were unable to affect its spelling, because they were illiterate. They would most likely not have left it as irrational and chaotic as the succession of clever boffins did, starting with monks in the 8th century substituting “o” for “u” in words such as “love”, “month” and “wonder” and culminating with Samuel Johnson wrecking English’s consonant-doubling in the 18th century. Because of his veneration of Latin, he bequeathed us ridiculous inconsistencies such as “shoddy body, very merry, sloppy copy”. If ordinary people were in a position to do so, they would quickly clear up this mess.

Masha Bell
Via timeshighereducation.com


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