The English Pedant – Death notice

The English Language

I was recently asked (by a Spanish-speaking teenager to whom I am teaching English) what “wanna” meant. It is symptomatic of the way the English language is going, now that the world and his wife (and their text-speaking kids) have the ability to communicate online without fear of being corrected or even challenged.

“Wanna,” I explained, ”is not really a word at all. It is the way want to sounds when we don’t pronounce it properly” (which for most of us is most of the time). Almost everybody says wanna and gonna and woulda and shoulda and coulda.

What happened with woulda, shoulda, and coulda is that they evolved via would’ve, should’ve and could’ve, all of which are happily accepted as correct.

The question is, then, if we are prepared to write would’ve etc. without feeling we’re letting the language-loving side down, should we allow wanna and gonna into the legitimate world?

This brings into question the whole evolution of language, because if, as we have seen many times before in this blog, the dictionaries are just waving these words through like a Customs officer who wants to go home because he’s been on duty all night, sooner or later those dictionaries will in effect be written by people with no qualifications, no interest in what they are doing and no awareness of what they are doing.

That is why blogs like this exist – because we care.

Does it matter if a generation of internet-addicted young people use gonna without knowing or thinking about what it is and where it came from? Does it matter if people whose first language is English think there is a word upmost, which the rest of us know is really utmost? These people know what it means – they just get the spelling and pronunciation wrong. Something about up makes it sound right: up is good (and therefore down is downright bad), so if they’re doing their upmost to speak properly, that fits, doesn’t it?

Sooner or later the world is gonna wanna kinda dictionary (no, too long, let’s call it a dicsh) that telz it like it is. None of this old-fashioned correctness. If people can learn to drive on their own, do they also have to be subject to the rules of the road? Or is that like saying they can learn about sex from internet pornography (sorry, porn) and need no information or encouragement about how the physical acts can benefit by being accompanied by emotions such as love and affection?

Readers, I would like your opinions on this.

Do teachers still have a responsibility to point out right and wrong, develop skills, instill good habits?

In many countries society is less judgmental than it used to be. In some areas there is no such thing as failing a test – you just get a score of 0 out of 100, but that doesn’t reflect badly on you.

When a 14-year-old who is in the middle of a decent education reads me a passage with complete disregard for punctuation, running one clause, one sentence and one paragraph into another, do I have a responsibility to teach her what commas and full stops mean and why they are there? Or shall we give up the struggle?


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