Every year, some time during the summer, UCL organises an English Grammar Day. This time I have been invited to speak, and I decided to do so on the following topic (not yet announced online):
No complaint tradition in The Netherlands?
English, according to Milroy and Milroy in Authority in Language (2012), has a complaint tradition, which makes people write letters-to-the editor or, these days, post “below-the-line” comments to online newspaper articles about linguistic and other issues. The Milroys, moreover, claim that such a tradition is common in “technologically advanced societies [with] heavily codified standard language[s]” (2012:77). Not so, however, in The Netherlands. Unlike in the UK (or the US), usage guides, or language advice manuals, are barely a popular text type in my country, and unlike in the UK (or the US), people rarely write letters-to-the editor about language. And if they do, they write not about usage problems like the dangling adjunct or multiple negation, but – recently in particular – about the status of Dutch in the light of the increasing influence of English.
In this paper, I will contrast the attitudes to linguistic correctness as expressed by the British and the Dutch by discussing how they find an outlet for complaints about language, and how and where they seek usage advice. In doing so I will argue that major differences in this can be explained by the very different ways in which both societies are traditionally organised.
English Grammar Day will be held on 8 July in the British Library. I expect that practical details will be announced soon.