“Good English is proper English”, and other fallacies

Last week I presented a paper called ‘Good English is proper English’, and other fallacies at the King’s College Cambridge lunchtime seminars, for a non-specialist audience. Thanks go to all those who laughed in the appropriate places. Here’s the abstract:

With the spread of English around the globe, the native speaker is said to be dead. Other people ‘own’ English, and can do what they like with it. In countries where English is an official language, legitimate varieties of the language now exist: Indian, Singaporean, Nigerian English and so on. But what about in northern Europe, where English is not an official language, but English competence is almost universal and it is pervasive in the media, commerce and education? Could it develop into full-fledged varieties there too, with e.g. Dutch or German English standing alongside British or Australian English? Will it one day be okay to say “I live here since three years”? This talk will look at why ‘proper’ English can be bad in some contexts, and why ‘bad’ English can sometimes be right and proper.


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