Monday, October 12, 2009

Different Kinds Of English

Once you have passed the elementary stage of English studies, it is important that you should realize there are different kinds of English used for different purposes. This is true to some extent of all languages. If you were speaking in your own language to a high official, for instance, you would not use quite the same expressions as when speaking to your friends, and on ceremonial occasions you may even have to use a kind of ceremonial speech which is quite different from the speech of everyday. But in addition there is one very important feature which English shares with all other advanced languages: it has gone far beyond the purely oral stage of development, and has a written history as well as a spoken one. English has, in fact, been written down for over a thousand years. Now when a language is written down, the written form is usually not quite the same as the spoken form, and written English is not quite the same as spoken English. This does not mean that they are always different. Most of the English you learn can be used on all occasions and for all purposes, both in speech and writing. But there are some expressions which belong only to speech, and others which belong only to writing. The English which belongs only to speech is called "colloquial" English, and that belonging only to writing is called "literary" English.

Colloquial English.
When we are speaking, we often use expressions which would seem careless and undignified in writing. This is true of highly educated people as well as everyone else. One of the most familiar examples is the practice of shortening certain common verbal expressions, e.g "don't", "won't", "I'll" (=I will or I shall),"he's" ( he is), etc. These are extremely common in speech, but are normally avoided in writing unless the writer is purposely using a colloquial style, as when writing a letter to friend, or when using direct speech to report the exact words which somebody has used. Moreover, in colloquial English we often say things in writing would be the sentence, "Who did you see?" when it is spoken, but if we are writing it we must alter "who" to "whom", because it is the object of "see" and must take the object form.
"Slang" is an extreme form of colloquial English, though even slang is widely used by all classes of people. Many slang expressions are used only in certain occupations, and may not be understood by people outside those occupations. Sailors for instance, have their own slang; so have schoolboys, actors, thieves, and others. Uneducated foreigners(e.g. uneducated Africans and Chinese) use a simplified type of English called "pidgin English". English people living in Africa sometimes use pidgin English among themselves as a kind of slang. Expressions like "left small"(for soon) and "one-time" (for quickly) are pidgin English, and would not be understood by the average Englishman in England. Finally, a good deal of slang is impolite or obscene, and is therefore avoided by all respectable people.

Literary English.
The word "literary" means "belonging to writing".It should not be confused with the word "literal" which has a different meaning. Literary English is more careful than colloquial English. Why is this? The reason is that when anything is written down, it is often a permanent record which everyone can see and check and examine, and the writer, knowing this, is careful to be grammatically correct, and to make his sentences effective or striking. Now this very careful kind of English may also be used in speech for special occasions, for instance in giving a public address or welcome to some important person; but if it is used in ordinary conversation it may sound foolish. Thus, "the person with whom I was conversing" is normal literary English, but in normal speech we would say something more simple "the man I was talking to".
There is one other very important thing about literary English. As the years go by, every language is slowly changing. You do not notice this with a less advance language, since if it has only recently been written down, you cannot compare the way people speak it now with the way they spoke it long ago. But in English the comparison can easily be made because we can still read the books which were written by our forefathers even hundreds of years ago. Thus, the English we read is often old-fashioned. This is to some extent true even of the literary English written today, because the written language always changes more slowly than the spoken. The words "thee","thou",etc., for example, are ever used in normal spoken English, but they are still sometimes used in writing specially in poetry.

1 comment:

caveman said...

A very good and honest assessment of English. I think you would agree that the principal reason for it's success in the World has more to do with it's ability to grow organically.After all I am told that it is not the easiest of languages to learn.Great blog.simon.