November 15, 2012

English English

“Why is it that the English are the absolute worst speakers of English?”

The quote above is from a guitarist that I met in Ireland. It was met with much laughter, even from people in the audience who had identified themselves as English only moments before. English English is indeed strange from my perspective. It’s full of rules about how to say things without actually saying words. From “presies,” to “cuppas,” to “being at uni,” English English is full of 1984-esque abbreviations that George Orwell would frown at.

However, these quirks and others (which make it hard for immigrants taught from dictionary English to communicate) are understandable given England’s history. With waves of immigrants from a multitude of countries throughout history, it is easy to imagine how the various accents and colloquialisms arose.

While there is something good to be said about the literal geographic names that dot a map of England (to get to the Tower of London take the Underground to Tower Hill), asking for directions and understanding them are two different challenges. With their interwoven histories, Welsh, Gaelic, and English accents have been combined and have cemented themselves in the linguistic landscape as Cockney and Geordie and often come with a very rapid pace of speech that makes even native speakers of English question their own fluidity.

Since I’ve been here I have even been in a conversation with one of my seminar leaders in which she asked for feedback after our first meeting. She asked what could be improved and then summarized the suggestions, saying “So just be more direct and use more specific words?” When I answered “Yes,” she said, “Oh I’m sorry. We British are just naturally shy like that.”

It’s okay, Britain. Don’t be shy. We love your language and are grateful for it.

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