Fighting Estuary English with an English Academy

This is a suggestion made by John Honey in Language is Power (1997:166-168). Estuary English Honey describes as being typically characterised by t-glottaling and l-vocalisation (though there are many other characteristics of Estuary English as well). Already in 1989 he had described what he calls “the invasion of RP by these features of ‘typical London speech'”.  A few years later, Honey notes, it was “condemned by the Secretary of State for Education as a form of English to be discouraged by schools”.

Apart from his pejorative attitude to this variety of English, it is interesting to see that Honey calls upon the institution of an Academy as a solution to put a stop to its “invasion” and spread. Such an attempt would be failed to doom, as the parallel case of the French Academy’s attempt to halt the influx of English words and expressions into French (see elsewhere in this blog). And why put a stop to Estuary English to begin with?

In calling for an English Academy Honey aligns himself with his eighteenth-century illustrious predecessors Dryden, Addison, Defoe and Swift. During the eighteenth century, calls for an academy eventually died down, and the issue is only revived sporadically, most notably in Robert Baker’s Reflections on the English Language (1770) and much later in John Simon’s Paradigms Lost: Reflections on Literacy and its Decline (1980). It seems a typical ready-made solution that presents itself to prescriptivists like Baker (who was the author of the first English usage guide ever written) and Simon, and Honey thus neatly fits into this same category of writers.

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