« Edmund Burke, the man | Main | How China’s one child policy wrecked the world economy »

15 June 2012

Standing up for the Queen’s English

Once upon a time there was a group of Trotskyites called the Revolutionary Communist Party. Over the years, they started sounding less revolutionary, not quite so communist and stopped being a party. Instead, they fanned-out across the chattering classes, popping up in all sorts of unexpected places. Some of the best-known names include Frank Furedi of sociology fame, Claire Fox of Radio 4’s Moral Maze and the journalist Brendan O’Neill.

Oddly enough, this lot have many admirers on the right – thanks to their habit of making leftwing arguments for what appear to be rightwing causes. For instance, here is Brendan O’Neill – editor of the spiked website (but often to be found in the pages of conservative publications like the Spectator) – standing up for the Queen’s English:

  • “When people doll up declining linguistic standards as ‘cultural diversity’, they’re really making a virtue out of dumbness, turning illiteracy into just a variant form of literacy. Some say we shouldn’t look down our noses at the urban patois now spoken by British youth, especially black youth and ‘chavs’, nor sneer at the ‘variant spelling’ and ‘academic differences’ such patois allegedly gives rise to. But this is doubly insulting. It is insulting to assume that young people, especially poor young people, are incapable of mastering standard language, of conquering English and all its glorious complications, and so instead must be allowed to write ‘potatoe’ instead of ‘potato’.”

Absolutely spot on, but O’Neill isn’t actually making a conservative argument – as he quite openly admits:

  • “I want to speak the Queen’s English not because I want to be like the Queen, but because I want to get rid of her, and to make numerous other changes to the society we live in… There is revolutionary potential in having everyone adhere to the same linguistic rules; there is only the dead end of division and parish-pump platitudes in the promotion of a linguistic free-for-all in which eevn spleling doens’t matetr.”

Well, that’s clear enough. But it’s also wrong. Not just wrong in seeking to overthrow time-honoured institutions like the monarchy (though that, of course, is very wrong indeed), but also wrong in assuming that cutting people off from the Queen’s English is bad for the left. Deprive a people of their language and you deprive them of their traditions, identity and independence – they become a blank and dependent population, ripe for remaking by an interfering, bureaucratic state.

Now, this may not be Brendan O’Neill’s idea of the Marxist utopia, but it’s pretty much what the mainstream left have been after – and what’s more they’re making progress. Their 'long march through the institutions', particularly the media and the education system, has done much to undermine our shared sense of nationhood. And, yet, we shouldn’t despair. The Diamond Jubilee celebrations were proof that traditions can perpetuate themselves not just on the page, but through living symbols like the monarchy. It is an instinctive, almost mystical, process – and the fact that this must be purest anathema to the anti-traditionalist left only adds to the joy of it.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.

Register to get The Deep End delivered to your inbox.