“Bad Grammar is Slovenly?” – Lesley Milroy
What is the central contention of the essay?
The central contention of the essay is that Milroy feels that bad grammar is not slovenly but non standard grammatical patterns are used by people all over as a result of different contexts and social situations. He argues that constructions which may appear to be ungrammatical are in fact perfectly grammatical and follow rules which are unconscious to the native speaker. He argues against the idea that bad grammar is slovenly as he gives examples of less standard uses of grammar by educated speakers, as you would expect more educated individuals to speak using ‘good’ grammar then it cannot be said that bad grammar is slovenly as more educated speakers would actively try to use good grammar.
What examples does the author use?
‘Who am I speaking to?’ / ‘To whom am I speaking?’
This example was spoken by an educated speaker, the incorrect use of the preposition at the end of the sentence and the nominative form of the relative pronoun ‘who’ instead of ‘whom’ demonstrates what would appear like ‘bad’ grammar however, these two errors are commonly made which demonstrates that perhaps it is not clear what rules apply to what situations.
‘Martha’s two children are completely different to each other’ / ‘Martha’s children are completely different from each other’
This example was again spoken by an educated speaker and shows the expression ‘different to’ used instead of the prescribed ‘different from’, it is seen as more appropriate to use ‘different from’ in the English language but importantly, Milroy goes on to describe these two differences as ‘options’ which highlights the idea that it is not a case of good or bad grammar or slovenliness but simply which form the speaker wishes to utilise.
What other theorists does the author refer to (or could refer to)?
Milroy refers to ‘one linguist’ which contends that ‘described linguistic prescriptivism as the last open door to discrimination’ we can tell that the author disagrees with this contention as he goes on to state that example (14) shows the speaker make a systematic distinction between ‘you’ and ‘yous’ which shows he disagrees with the linguist.
When Milroy discusses example 16 ‘Me and Andy went to the park’ he could also bring in David Crystal and his 1982 Top Twenty complaints about broadcast language over the misuse of ‘you and I’ instead of ‘you and me’ and discuss his Merchant of Venice example.
List six quotations from the essay and explain why they are important.
‘Newspaper features, letter columns and the mailboxes of the BBC are good places to find complaints about bad grammar’.
This quotation is important as Milroy highlights here that it is perhaps the media which are behind this influx of ‘bad grammar’, as they are the distributors of new and different ways of speaking he displays his idea here that it can’t simply be down to slovenliness and the BBC are a major aspect of British culture and society and wouldn’t use certain grammatical terms if they felt they were really slovenly.
‘Sometimes an attempt to follow the prescribed rules produces odd results’.
This quotation is important as it distinctly shows Milroys view that even the prescribed and standard forms of grammar can end up as being confusing to different speakers, therefore this highlights that if the ‘good’ grammatical structures can lead to confusion then the ‘bad’ grammatical structures cannot be seen as slovenly if they are more widely used and more suitable for the general population of English language speakers.
‘Britain needed a standardized language to meet the needs of geographically scattered colonial government servants’
This quotation is important as it highlights the idea of language spread and in turn, language variation and shows that English did need a standard version as the language spreads far but this spread also highlights that different English language speakers will use their language in different ways and varying forms of saying the same thing can become acceptable.
‘..which is not a systematic description of a language but a sort of language etiquette..’
This quotation is important because it demonstrates the idea that ‘good’ grammar is simply an idealistic view of how a person ought to speak, however this idea of ‘language etiquette’ does not take into account the idea that speakers will speak how they want to speak to suit what they are trying to communicate, therefore ‘etiquette’ goes out of the window.
‘..to attract covert social prejudice by virtue of their association with low status groups..’
This quotation is important because it suggests the idea that lower status people are all slovenly because of the ‘bad grammar’ structures they use however, it cannot be said they are simply slovenly because over generations this is the way they and their parents etc have spoken. They cannot be seen as slovenly if they do not know they are perceived as being this way or have not been taught to speak in a different way.
Do you agree with each of the author’s contentions?
I do agree with the authors contentions because I think that it cannot be seen as slovenly if people deviate from ‘standard’ English grammar, they are simply adapting their language to the way they as an individual want to speak and come across to other English speakers. As Milroy has demonstrated that even educated speakers can misuse grammatical structures and we would expect these speakers to know the most about grammar then it cannot be said that non standard grammar is slovenly, but simply a misunderstanding or lack of knowledge of what structure ought to be used. In the society we live in today there are so many different variations of the English language that it is hard to claim there is still one standard English grammar because of the growth of our society with people of different cultural backgrounds and therefore language, the ‘standard’ grammar is disappearing and people are using the grammar they feel required to communicate what they want to say, and most importantly people are able to understand what different people are trying to say.