|image from earlywomenmasters.net|
Of course, I thought the idea of Standard English was a 21st century theory. It seems the very eloquent George Eliot, however, was laying out Composition Theory lessons way back in the 19th century. In her lengthy novel Middlemarch, Eliot directly addresses language, language acquisition, and authorship.
For instance, in Chapter 11, Rosamond, Fred, and Mrs. Vincy speak on the subject of slang. Eliot writes:
‘Are you beginning to dislike slang, then?’ said Rosamond, with mild gravity.
‘Only the wrong sort. All choice of words is slang. It marks a class.’ [said Fred]
‘There is correct English: that is not slang.’
‘I beg your pardon: correct English is the slang of the prigs who write history and essays. And the strongest slang of all is the slang of poets.’
Here, Eliot shows the relationship between the dominant class and language. The “correct” language is the one of the upper class (prigs), but it also belongs to the authors—the historians and the writers—far more than the common man, the simply wealthy man, or the politician. Is this not still happening today? This brings into question multiple Englishes, accented Englishes, regional Englishes, etc. Who are we to say which is correct? Should we say which is correct?
The list of language quotations certainly doesn't end with this brief snippet, but for the sake of brevity, I will leave you to ponder only one example