R JORDAN   Sunday, August 29, 2004, 09:50 GMT
In elementary school I was introduced to lists of some of the most frequently mispronounced words and I was taught the correct pronunciation. I was also taught how to make sense of word pairs that are frequently misused such as “accept & except”, “moral & morale”, etc.

Forgive me if I sound cocky, but I believe that I have abided with those simple rules better than most people I associate with, including my boss. I don’t want to imply that I have perfect English pronunciation and grammar, because I don’t. But, I do feel that I am a bit more cognizant of the rules than most people I know. For example when I say “often” I don’t pronounce the “t”. When I say “salmon” I don’t pronounce the “l”. I say that I will lie on my bed; I don’t say that I will lay on my bed (unless I’m laying an egg, of course). I say “I have done”, not “I have did”. I say “it had gone”, not “It had went”. I say “it doesn’t work”, not “it don’t work”. My pronunciation of the word “address” differs when I use it as a verb (as in “he will address the nation”) from when I use it as a noun (as in “this is my address”).

To hear people at work mispronounce words and use bad grammar everyday frustrates me a little—ok, A LOT! Some of these people went to college and have all kinds of degrees. I finished high school but did not go to college. Also, English is not my first language. I mean, I sometimes feel awkward pronouncing a word (such as lie) correctly because I think people will think I’m mispronouncing it. So, I’ll pronounce it wrong, like them, so that they think I’m pronouncing it right!

I’ve noticed that some dictionaries are now listing more than one “acceptable way” to pronounce certain words. I guess the premise of “if you can’t beat them, join them” holds true.

The purpose of the above is for me to vent a little. I welcome your feedback. Maybe you empathize with me and want to share your frustration. Maybe you disagree with me and you want to tell me that I am the one that’s been wrong all along. Maybe I have!

Happy writing! Tootle-loo! ;)
Mxsmanic   Sunday, August 29, 2004, 11:18 GMT
The average English speaker in many countries is remarkably incompetent in the language--he knows it well enough to communicate verbally on an everyday basis, but cannot express himself with any eloquence, and often can barely write at all. The rate of functional illiteracy is very high in some countries, such as the United States; while it's true that most Americans can read the alphabet (thus technically excluding them from the "totally illiterate" category and allowing the country to claim virtually 100% literacy), more than a third cannot read a simple job advertisement in a newspaper.

I have a problem similar to yours when I speak French: If I actually pronounce certain words properly or use certain constructions in speech or writing, many of the native speakers will "correct" me because they normally do things wrong and don't realize that I'm doing things right.

An example is the use of accents on uppercase letters. Many people in France (but not in other French-speaking countries) think that putting accents on uppercase letters is against the rules; in fact, accents on uppercase letters are just as mandatory as they are on lowercase letters, even in France. But trying to convince the average dolt on the street of that can be an exercise in futility. Still, I continue to put accents on capital letters in writing, despite the whining of the uneducated, because I don't like to enshrine mistakes in written form.

Bosses are another problem. I used to have a not-very-bright manager who insisted on seeing every memo I wrote before I distributed it--and he always had to correct _something_ in order to show his superior knowledge of English. The problem was that I had a much better knowledge of English than he did, so his corrections often introduced mistakes into the memo. So I always put a few really glaring errors into the text so that he'd see something that he could correct--something obvious that even he, with his poor grasp of the language, could recognize and correct.
Sanja   Sunday, August 29, 2004, 16:24 GMT
I agree with R JORDAN. I hate to see that so many people who speak English as they native language and claim to be educated can't speak or write it correctly. I always get frustrated and think: "For God's sake, if I was able to learn it as a foreigner, why weren't you?" Of course my English is far from perfect, but I know a lot of foreigners whose English is perfect. But I would expect native speakers to know how to speak and write correctly, and I'm shocked to see that even educated ones are so bad at it.
mjd   Sunday, August 29, 2004, 17:30 GMT
R Jordan said: "For example when I say “often” I don’t pronounce the 't'."

In the U.S. (at least in my part of the country) we do pronounce the "t" in "often," so this can hardly be classified as a mistake. There are a variety of accents and pronunciations vary. The whole "lie/lay" issue is actually a very old one. The confusion surrounding the usage of these two words can be traced back to the Middle Ages.

R Jordan said: "I’ve noticed that some dictionaries are now listing more than one 'acceptable way' to pronounce certain words. I guess the premise of 'if you can’t beat them, join them' holds true."

While I share some of your frustrations, you need to understand that languages are constantly in flux and dictionaries have to adjust accordingly.
mikel   Monday, August 30, 2004, 00:31 GMT
I too hate to see the English language butchered, so R Jordan is not alone in his frustrations.

I notice also that most of the people who have bad grammar are the upper class, white-collared, and educated with truckloads of degrees. I always wonder what sorts of sexual acts they had to perform in order to get to where they are, because I find it difficult to imagine their getting very far with such an inability to communicate properly.

The truth is that good looks, a great smile, a firm hanshake, and all the rest of it will get you farther in life than education and common sense.

It's very depressing to me especially because I refuse to give in, be fake, and play the game.

I personally feel that people should never have to dumb themselves down, not even to a boss.

I have been trying more and more to act by example and not to criticize. Although it frustrates me that others speak poorly, I refrain from correcting them; I simply set an example for others by speaking properly.

You'd be surprised by how quickly others catch on, get embarrassed, and then attempt to correct their own speech.

In other words, make them play your game.
Sanja   Monday, August 30, 2004, 15:54 GMT
Good idea.
Mxsmanic   Monday, August 30, 2004, 18:20 GMT
I've been told by several people that they take care to refrain from using slang or profanity in my presence because they've noticed that I never use it. I personally don't care whether they use slang or profanity, but I suppose they feel obligated to speak as I do, or they are worried that I might have religious objections to their choice of words, or something.
Pat   Tuesday, August 31, 2004, 06:17 GMT
In the US its ok to say Lie or Lay, they mean the same thing and only a snob would make a particular point of noticing the difference. " lay it on the table" "lie it on the table" lets move on here and get over these petty differences.
Damian   Tuesday, August 31, 2004, 06:48 GMT
I've been racking my brains (yeah..I DO have a few cells there)...on this one. I hardly ever use "lay", come to think of it. I would say to a hen: "Go lay an egg!" but when I have a migraine I try to go and lie on my bed for a wee while. I do not have migraines very ofTen though (pronouncing the T....just).

The word "lay" can have many contextual meanings. One or two are officially classed as taboo. :-)
Sanja   Wednesday, September 01, 2004, 15:21 GMT
I guess non-native speakers are more aware of the language than the native speakers, especially if we're talking about English, because native English speakers usually don't learn foreign languages and are not aware of some things that non-native speakers are. Since I was forced to learn English since my early age, I have a very good understanding of my own language as well and I always make sure to speak and write correctly. But my sister is completely obssessed with correct speaking and writing, she pays attention to every little detail. If someone sends her an SMS message or something, she has to make sure that every comma is in its place :)) LOL. If a guy she likes makes any kind of mistake in his speech or writing, she will no longer like him.
Dulcinea del Toboso   Wednesday, September 01, 2004, 18:05 GMT
R. Jordan,

It's good to see people like you who care about the language. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people are making critical distinctions, such as between "affect" and "effect" (this is why we have the loathsome "impact" being substituted). The "t" in "often" was something I would rarely hear (I myself don't say it), but it is becoming much more common.

There are "prescriptivist" dictionaries, which attempt to portray the language as it "should be", and "descriptivist" ones, which try to reflect what is actually used by people without making judgements. No doubt some day "loose" for "lose" will appear in one of those dictionaries.
Jim   Thursday, September 02, 2004, 00:27 GMT
/of.n/ vs. /oft.n/ I once read in a book from the Oxford University press that there should be no /t/ in the pronunciation of "often" ... but on the other hand I've heard Tony Blair say /oft.n/ on TV.

"...I always put a few really glaring errors into the text so that he'd see something that he could correct ..."

I like that: funny funny funny.

I know a restaurant where "fresh ground pepper" was on offer. I'd always complain that the pepper wasn't fresh (it was dried as one would expect it to be) it was freshly ground. "Freshly ground pepper" not "fresh ground pepper". Adverb verses adjective: that primary school stuff.
Jim   Thursday, September 02, 2004, 00:28 GMT
Correxion: "... that's primary school stuff."