• AurelienThomas

KING ENGLISH: 'Accidence Will Happen'

Updated: Nov 23, 2019


Are using flat adverbs, splitting infinitives, starting sentences by 'And', or spelling all right' instead of 'alright' signs of a bad English? According to Oliver Kamm, 'leader writer and columnist for The Times': no.


No, and, his stance is not an opinion coming out of the blue (like, said, past grammatical manuals...) but supported by solid evidence - the history and evolution of English language itself, reinforced by many literary examples (Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Dickens....).


In fact, and here's why I really LOVED this book, he not only takes the time to debunk all these silly and unfunded rules about supposed bad grammar, spelling and punctuation. He, most importantly, stresses how such prescriptivism (or superstitious and ignorant pedantry, as he puts it) is in fact counter-productive when it comes to our use of the language. Indeed, beyond the fact that sticklers do not know what they are talking about (again, he debunks all of 'their' rules by relying on solid evidences) their attitude towards language is, actually, damaging to literacy. In a nutshell: a Standard English has nothing to do with a 'good English' (as opposed to 'bad' ones then) and if you really care about the use of English language then care about registers, of which Standards (emphasis on the plural) are just parts of. Stop worrying about shibboleths.


Will sticklers ever be able to understand that? Let's doubt it:


'If the sticklers were interested in language they'd read research in (to name but a few) the grammar of English and other tongues; neuroscience and psychology, to illuminate how the brain processes the written word; computer science, to understand the use of artificial intelligence in simulating language; anthropology, to understand how language develops across cultures; and philosophy, to understand the link between language and logical thought. Instead, their mental universe is populated with instances of a small phonetic confusion between the word EFFECT and AFFECT, or a purportedly (though not actually) incorrect use of INFER. It's not only the pedant's lack of linguistic inquisitiveness that's dispiriting: it's the smallness of their world.'


Clear, straightforward, strongly but well argued, and, even, reassuring, 'Accidence Will Happen' is bold and refreshing. If you really care about language, you will love this book!


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