Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Government Minister seeks to change the English Language

According to a report in The Grauniad, the Department for Transport has issued a five page document offering grammatical advice for civil servants and MPs. Given that many of them are barely literate, this is long overdue. However, the quality of the advice proffered is open to question. For example, the guide states that the word ‘firstly’ should not appear anywhere other than the start of a sentence. The word ‘firstly’ should not appear at all! Rather, the word ‘first’ should be used.

The newspaper article claims that Canny Linguist's MP, Theresa Villiers, the Minister for Transport, has forbidden the use of the words ‘whilst’ and ‘with regards to’ within her department. CL has written to Ms Villiers seeking confirmation of the report.

Whilst MPs are, of course, entitled to their views on language usage, CL was not aware that Orwell's prophecy with regards to ‘newspeak’ formed part of the Coalition agreement. This situation is reminiscent of the attempt by former Prime Minister, Tony B Liar, to have Latin words such as ‘writ’ and ‘habeas corpus’ removed from our vocabulary.

English is a rich and diverse language, constantly changing, with some words falling out of favour through natural evolution. However, when politicians start dictating which words can and cannot be used, it is a clear sign that democratic civilisation has formally ended.