Unlearning your mother tongue

In a short story called “Mother Tongue” (2001), Ian McEwan writes about his efforts at acquiring standard English, a variety he had not learnt at home. As a result of his reading novels by Iris Murdoch and Graham Greene,

[s]lowly, nothink, somethink, cestificate, skelington, chimley all went, as well as the double negatives and mismatched plurals.

A friend corrected all his dones into dids, and nearly got into trouble for doing so: their teacher thought it “to be a display of rudeness and snobbery”.

This short story is about the conflict between language and class, but above all it is a lovely story about his mother.

Thanks to Marilyn Hedges for telling us about it.

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