Based on an article in the latest issue of English Today

A personal reflection near Mother’s Day

Who cares what the Prince of Wales calls his mother?  Well actually, as he is a well-educated English speaker, he might be a good role model for many people who are learning English, teaching it or who are simply curious about the way English is used.  “Everyday” language is often the most difficult to use correctly if you do not live in the relevant country.  I speak fluent French, but live in England.  My friends (and it is the sign of a true friend if he or she will comment on your use their language) say my style is correct “but rather literary”.  Not surprising.  I am a literary translator.

I treasure a letter from a French friend who begged me to provide her with the vocabulary for potty training;  she was caring for her tiny neice and wanted to speak English to her, but did not have the correct register of language.  I was delighted to be able to pass on to her a whole range of expressions – at least those used in our family  – referring nappies and collquial “baby” references to bodily functions.

Why is it so important to get the register of vocabulary “right”?  Alas, English speakers are still quickly judged as soon as they open their mouth to speak.  Our prejudices are more often aimed at our countrymen than at our new citizens or visitors from overseas.  Both accent and vocabulary will quicky place, both geographically and socially, any native English speaker.  If English is not the speaker’s first language, an overseas accent is often considered charming.  An educated English person will enjoy the challenge of guessing which part of the world the “stranger” comes from.  However, an element of lexis, especially if it is inappropriately associated with the nursery or the classroom rather than the lecture hall or workplace, can relegate the speaker to the ranks of the “stupid”, the “ignorant”, the “boorish” and possibly worse.

English vocabulary is a game of social snakes and ladders.  Get it right and you slide up, get it wrong, and down you go.  Where does that leave Prince Charles?  In a few year’s time (many years in the future, I hope), he will, unfortunately, lose his mother.  At that time, he is going to be right at the top of the “best” British ladder of all.  He speaks, and will continue to speak, as he deems fit.  However, he may not be the best role model after all.

Read the full article ‘‘The Mummy Returns’ – or what did the prince say to his monarch?” here

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