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23 September 2014
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The art of conversation
Also on Voices
Classroom talk

In Your Area
What do you think about your local accent?
Talk about Voices in your area

Did You Know?
95% of people in Northern Ireland think of themselves as having a moderately strong accent, compared to only 63% of people in the east of England.
Voices poll results

"You just don't listen!"
Why do people say 'like' every other word?
Isn't 'innit' ungrammatical?

Your comments

Artemis from Bury
Oh for gods sake stop complaining. English is bound to evolve, just as the human body does. Face it, in a couple of decades, English will have changed completely.

Anne-Marie, Warrington
That would explain why after a long day at work, when I try to tell my boyfriend about it, he launches into a half hour soliloquy! Ah, he's just trying to make me feel better...

Craig McNeil from Kent
The worst thing I have found from he whole of 2005 is my children's inability to pronounce the words "Harry Potter" with an "H" and with a "T". "'arry Po?er" means absolutely nothing.

Simon Brown
I have read many of these suggestions so here's my favourite linguistic irritant. The bastardisation of the perfect tense. I have read - ok. I should have read - ok. I should've read - ok though better when writing to avoid abbreviations and here's why. I should OF read? OF, when used in the perfect tense, is the mark of the cretin. In my opinion only...

Andy from Bristol
I am sick of hearing people neglecting to articulate consonant sounds. What is with dropping the H's and T's from spoken words? Also, there must be a high incidence of individuals in England with some sort of anatomical deformity of the mouth. I can't think of any other reason why I am forever hearing the digraph 'th' pronounced as an 'f' sound. 'I Fink..' and 'number free'? Please.

Geoffrey Paddock from Carlisle
Pete from Bristol cares deeply about the English language, but even he uses one of my pet hates by referring to children as young goats! On another topic - with regard to pronunciation - can we please have the t returned to Pi'ture and the r knocked out of Laura Norder and drawring? - and the childish samwich pronounced sandwich? - and what about the d in Wednesday?

Margaret Benfield in Hemel Hempstead
"I" or "me" is easily resolved - take out the "you and" that goes before, and you will soon see which makes sense. (And, yes, both are right in different sentences) A personal "hate" is "it's" when one means "its" (i.e. "belonging to") And that is also easily sorted - if you have used the apostrophe ("it's"), change it to "it is", and, hey presto, it's obvious!

Bob McDonald from Philadelphia
Good piece. The type of thing that should be taught to every twelve year old. It would result in more successful relationships. After three thousand years one wonders why it isn't common knowledge. As to the sad expansion of American English... Rapid and constant communication with other English speaking countries makes the adoption of slang and other words likely. If it's any consolation I've heard many Americans use "brilliant", "purpose built" and even "mate." Still, it's more likely a one way street with not much coming this way. I encourage readers who object to the wholesale adoption of "Americanisms" to keep the fight going. Frankly, there isn't much worth incorporating. (Though it might be encouraging to know that most people who teach the language here also strongly object to many of the same things I've seen in these posts - off of my chest rather than off my chest, etc.) One thing, however. Drop the silly company as plural. The Jaguar Corporation are expanding operations. Is. Jaguar is. Bob

Ann from the Netherlands
The worst thing I hear on Tv nowadays is the use of 'f' instead of 'th'. Years ago this would have identified someone from London and the South East of England. Now people from yorkshire and liverpool say 'I don't fink so' 'I wuz finkin about....'' 'I'm goin to fe barfroom' etc etc etc. It's not regional anymore it's become horribly universal! - And the presenters do it too!

Haran Rasalingam, BA Hons Linguistics from London
Did you know that many of the prescribed rules of "correct" grammar were made up just over a century ago by grammarians who decided to try to use the grammatical rules of Latin for English? The split infinitive, for example, is one such ridiculous rule. In Latin, the infinitive is one word, whereas it is two words in English. Native English speakers have been splitting infinitives since as far back as the 1300s and Chaucer's time. It is hilarious that an invented prohibition of splitting infinitives should have such an impact even today without people even knowing why.

Haran Rasalingam, BA Hons Linguistic Science Everyone has strong opinions about language and what is "correct" and what is "incorrect". This alone shows us just how complex human language is - it has so many levels of meaning reflecting social status, regional background, political leanings, age, gender and so on and so on. Every native speaker of a language speaks it correctly. People get worked up when they hear the grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation of one person's dialect clashing with their own dialect or with the dialect they consider to be "correct". The Queen's dialect is just one of a myriad of dialects with its own idiosyncratic grammatical rules. Public school dialects, educated dialects, BBC dialects are dialects of status and power which is why people feel they should try to speak more like that rather than their own native dialect. Many people feel qualified to talk about correctness of language, but it really is subjective in this sense. While all native speakers have an in-built grammar, our attempts to describe this grammar are always over-simplified. Beware the language mavens! They do not know what they are talking about. Recommeded reading: The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker a qualified linguist.

Mark from Essex
The trouble with people using 'you and I' (instead of the far more common 'you and me') is that they often use 'I' even when it is the object of the sentence when it should only be used as the subject. For example, it is correct to say 'You and I should go for a walk later', but it is not correct to say 'He gave you and I some cake' (correct me if I'm wrong1?). You don't have this trouble with 'you' as it doesn't change whether its the subject or the object. Another thing that annoys me about the English language is that in written English, one is supposed to write 'do not' instead of the far more natural 'don't' even though writing 'do' then 'not' involves a conscious effort in my opinion. In the spoken language saying 'Do NOT do that!' has more emphasis than 'don't do that!' - however, this nuance is lost in written works.

Julian R Ashby
'Like' Just wonder when the many new meanings of the work LIKE appeared eg,. and he was like.... What is he like... And he like said... Just wonder like, if anyone knew?

Pete, Bristol
It's true that a lot of the language and modes of speech that kids use today can sound pretty jarring - especially their habit of posing everything as a question, which I've heard referred to as the 'moronic interrogative' - but what does everyone expect? If you plonk your kid down in front of Neighbours every evening of it's life then he/she is obviously going to pick things up. The same goes for Americanisms. I care deeply about English in all its forms and what winds me up is seeing it being used as a stick to beat people who are simply speaking according to the norms of the society they've grown up in. The cold truth is that if we wanted our children to speak 'properly' we should have raised them that way instead of letting Friends/Seinfeld/Neighbours etc do it for us.

Mel from Suffolk
Not all teenagers are completely inarticulate. I am fourteen and I know my English isn't the Queen's but at least I don't type in ridiculous shorthand finish each sentence with "innit". My pet hates are swearing, apostrophe misuse, and people using chatroom abbreviations in speech. My peers say "lol" (short for "laugh out loud") when they find something funny.

Alex Hove innit
would you not be in agreement with me kind sir or madam. So the men are all competing the women are facilitating and the younger folks are all trying to work out what's going on - nothings changed here then!!

Julia Scott Reynolds, Surrey
After years of men being conditioned for life as hunter gatherers and women as home makers and communicators it is not surprising that confusion has arisen as we are hurled into this era. It is only a relatively short time since we have become 'civilised' and the two genders have not yet adapted. It could take millions of years!

Sarah Kerrigan, London
I always say words like innit at the end of sentences, mainly to reinforce my point (it's hard to tell when adults are listening to you when you're 16) and my mother is fed up with it. If the word has so many meanings, surely it is grammatical. I also find that it makes conversation flow. If you have just made a statement and your audience seems to have nothing to say, you say innit to provoke a response.

Jules from London
I truly regret Americanisation of everything, whether it is language, TV or other aspects of our culture. That is one reason why we should lean closer to Europe, not America.

Please tell Sophie from Hull that her complaint about American grammar should also include her own incorrect grammar. One should NEVER say fed up of. If one chooses to say fed up in the first place then please say WITH! Or in the interests of keeping an elegant language she could find other ways to saying the same thing. I'm irritated by, or it is maddeningly boring; whatever she chooses, it is nice to hear words that create a picture or a feeling. Fed up of only says duh.

Melissa. York.
The art of conversation is more complex and highly organised than one could ever imagine!

Gordon from Boston, UK
It has been suggested that men think logically, whilst women think emotionally. With neither understanding the other, is it any wonder that they have difficulty finding a middle ground? Conversation, like relationships, only works when people want it to and never fails when all parties actively work for success.

Lisa, Montreal
I'd like to add that 'innit' probably comes from 'Ain't it' and that I HATE when people talk with a question-like intonation at the end of sentences which clearly are statements. I try so hard not to speak like that but it's hard to avoid when everyone is afflicted with that way speaking also. It makes one wonder how many decades it will pass before most of the english-speaking world eventually speaks like like middle-Americans. Australia was made up of people from Britain (after the aboriginal peoples' settlement of course) and the way english is spoken there, is slowly becoming less British influenced as the decades pass. I think it's safe to say that's how the North American's accent and way of talking started out a century or many decades ago. It can be noticed in American films from the earlier part of the 1900s in comparison to how they speak in their films of today.

The Lady Marsha - Cleveland,Ohio USA
Language is a a personal expression of the spoken word and the derivations are as unique as the individual. As the mother of 11 children, a write and friends to many Brits I have to laugh sometimes at how we express ourselves. Yes it is often irritating and inane but it makes us who we are.

Sophie, Hull
I'm fed up of hearing American (incorrect) grammer being used on radio and TV. The Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills seems to love to use the phrase "off of". For example, when discrussing someone off a television programme he proceeds to say "so-and-so off OF so-and-so" rather than "so-and-so off so-and-so". It's infuriating. He's even taken to saying "off of" when referring to a place, and instead of using "from", such as "Sophie OFF OF Hull". What is that all about????? Can't someone outlaw stupid American influenced grammer like this?

Charmaine Nel from Pretoria
South Africans use the word "ne?" to cover a wide variety of questions, in the same way "innit" is used in Britain. It's possibly a shortened version of the French "n'est ce pas?"

Kate Williams, Basingstoke
Something that really annoys my parents is when my friends and I raise the intonation at the end of our sentences to sound like we are asking a question.Why we do this I dont know?!

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