Which English Is Correct? — By John Reed

Which English Is Correct?
Those of you of a certain age will remember the newscaster Edwin Newman. In addition to a long career in radio and television, he wrote books and columns on the proper use of the English language. During his time, there were few disagreements about what was meant by “proper English.”
These days, anyone who brings up the idea that there’s only one way to speak the language is branded a bigot, a racist, or worse. As more and more people of different ethnic backgrounds arrive, more cultural baggage encumbers any such debate.
First, a truth that may be hard to accept by the not-so-majority WASP crowd: English is increasingly many people’s second language. As such, it’s become the lingua francathat allows folks from all over the world to communicate…not just in person, but online; not just here, but globally. Along the way, many different accents and idioms are heard.
Long vowels or rolled r’s aside, should there still be a single cohesive framework for what is considered the “right” way to speak? Well, it depends on the setting. What might work for the business world might be different for a social gathering. Southern politicians won’t get elected without the occasional “y’all” or “ain’t” thrown into a campaign speech. But do you want to hear that same coming out of your surgeon’s mouth as you’re wheeled into the operating room?
The debate about Black English has been with us for decades, with many academics labeling it an authentic offshoot of American English, itself an offshoot of British English. Like the Southern dialect, it’s pretty much necessary in certain situations…but maybe not in others.
So like some previous columns, I’m opening the floor for discussion. When is “Imma gonna see what time it be” acceptable: between friends? In a classroom from a teacher? Only between fellow African-Americans? From a White hip-hop wannabe?
My personal sense is that the situation sets the rules. My time in the classroom taught me to find different ways to reach kids. Each child had his or her own background to use as a reference to understand what I was trying to teach them, and it was my task to adapt to whatever culture or previous knowledge they brought to the table. That’s likely true with adults as well.
So which is it? Is there a single “proper” way to speak and write the English language? Or is it a free-for-all, with made up words, new spellings and all the rest?

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