Dunglish: How English should a text be?

This will be one of the topics discussed at the SENSE panel discussion ‘Varieties of English: How prescriptive should we be?’ on 27 January (see under News for more information). One of the panel members will be Joy Burrough-Boenisch, the author of the book Righting English that’s gone Dutch.

The inspiration for the book came from the feeling that the author, who works as a copy editor in The Netherlands, “was losing grip of my native tongue because of speaking Dutch and being confronted daily with texts written in English by Dutch authors” (1998:9).

The edition I got hold of accidentally – a colleague had just discarded – is the first, published in 1998, but a second edition has been available since 2004, and it is twice as thick.

I think it is a wonderful book. It takes a very witty approach to the topic, and illuminates problems such as I encounter them daily in reading and marking my students’ essays. It focusses on things like layout, use of academic titles and of brackets, the problem of false friends where word meaning is concerned, spelling issues, the use of present/past tense in narratives, the alphabetising of names and a lot more besides. I would make it a compulsory buy for all our students – were it not for the fact that it is rather expensive: bol.com charges €20.99 a copy. For all that, I will definitely make it set reading as soon as I encounter any of the issues mentioned.

From the point of view of this blog, it is interesting to see that the author drew on the third edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1995) and on Gowers’s Complete Plain Words, also its third edition, published in 1986. From what I’ve seen, these usage guides, when consulted in the book, give very practical advice.

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