RADICALS, REVOLUTIONARIES AND LANGUAGE

To examine how these ambivalent attitudes towards standard English arose, we need to go back in time to the latter half of the eighteenth century and trace out the politicisation of language and language theory into the nineteenth century. Olivia Smith’s 1984 book, The Politics of Language 1791-1819, is an ideal entry point for assessing the politicisation of language in the last two decades of the eighteenth century and outlining the development of a new myth, the myth of the legitimate language (henceforth the legitimate language

myth), which grew out of the polite language myth. The new myth became a major force in the construction of a dominant ideology out of which arose a discourse archive that survived till the time of the Second World War in the twentieth century. Some of the “true” statements belonging to this archive are given below:

The list of statements could easily be expanded, but, for the moment, the one I have provided suffices to show how powerful the discourse archive was. Some of the statements also justify the commodification of English and its geographical diffusion across the world, which will concern us in chapter 11. Most of the statements are obviously no longer valid, and from an objective point of view were never valid. Clearly, Britain is not (and never has been) a monolingual state. In fact, the second statement reveals an uncanny feeling that there must be other languages or language varieties that need to be excluded by propagating the ideological discourse driven by the legitimate language myth. The third, fifth and sixth statements are still valid for a number of people living in Britain, but they could scarcely be used any longer for political purposes.[1] The fourth statement is still valid, but we need to discuss what we mean by “a command of standard English”. This and other questions will be dealt with in chapter 10.

  • [1] In chapter 10 . however, I present statements made by politicians during the National Curriculum“wars” at the end of the 1980s which are solidly based on a belief in the truth of these statements.
 
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