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Monday 9 May 2011

A Landmark - Innit?

The news that innit has achieved the status of an acceptable Scrabble word made me pause this morning. Do I like it? Instinctively, no. Do I find its usage interesting? Definitely, yes. What is interesting about it is not so much that it has achieved recognition as a way of saying isn’t it?, but that it also serves for doesn’t it?, aren’t we?, won’t you? etc. In other words, it is the equivalent of the French n’est-ce pas?, the Spanish ¿verdad?, the German nicht wahr? and so on. In linguistic terms, surely a landmark moment?

For centuries, the English language has been undergoing a process of simplification – or if you like, streamlining. It’s ancestor, Anglo Saxon, was a highly inflected language – with lots of different word endings to denote tense, person and grammatical case – quite similar in that respect to Latin or modern German. Gradually, most of these endings have been shrugged off, leaving a few remnants – such as the ‘s’ in he/she plays as opposed to I/you/we/they play. English words today are a bit like plasticine – the same word, with no alterations or additions, can be used as a noun, a verb or an adjective, just by changing the order of the words in the sentence. This suppleness, together with its part Latinate, part Anglo-Saxon origin vocabulary, as well as more recent imports from other languages, makes for a marvellous range of possibilities. It has been an evolutionary process and, as I have said elsewhere in this blog, I believe in evolution.

Will I begin to use innit? I don’t think so. Am I in favour of encouraging children to speak correctly so that they can learn how to read more easily? Definitely.

At present, innit seems to be mainly used in the south of England by the young. Will it start to creep over boundaries and begin to be used more widely?

I will observe from a respectful distance and watch it flower or shrivel.

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