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English as She is Spoke, by Mum


Foreign languages may be a bit of a struggle – and, say some, why bother? We don’t agree, but has any of us considered lately the difficulties of English for the non-native speaker? James Campbell pointed up some issues of pronunciation in a recent Times Literary Supplement piece (16 November 2012).

Sample dialogue: “The tough demanded the dough; she coughed up as she ought to have done; I was quite right, she wrote to the wheelwright, it was a rite of passage but he looked thoroughly rough; her daughter’s laughter sounded fraught. As she liked to read, books were read; she was born in Leicester and attended Magdalen, but preferred life in Kirkudbright or Milngavie. Her niece was brought to Borough Market by Mr Brougham.

“As to “hurricanes hardly ever happen here”, it is no use issuing a horatory: “in English the aspirate h is pronounced” because within an hour, honestly, your honour will be hors de combat. If you refer to an historic hotel, why not an hotel with an history?

“If you discuss the ants in your pants with your aunts at a dance using the same a all through, you are probably Scottish or Irish, in which case you are spared the class, not closs – anxiety.

“The hoi polloi – hoi is the the; “the La Scala” – a much loved Sauchiehall Street cinema and referred to thus by Glaswegians of an older vintage comes to mind; “learned/learnt; burned/burnt; hanged/hung” – how tricky it would all be lest we’d learnt our Mother tongue at our Mother’s knee.

Choose the Right Word: An easy-to-use guide to better English (How to Books – £9.99).