3 November 2012

Linguistic Strangeness in English

Leeds (South Parade)_November 2011

As a learner of English myself, I know that one of the main concerns of a learner of English as a foreign language is to follow the rules of Standard English correctly. However, one aspect about English that learners generally fail to realise is that native English users normally depart from the norms of English.
“Ah, don’t tell porkies!” and “Stop pork pieing me…” are sentences that reality tv presenter Kim Woodburn regularly utters on How Clean is Your House? (Channel 4).
In these examples Ms Woodburn uses ‘rhyming slang’ – a form of slang defined in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary as “a type of slang that replaces words with rhyming words or phrases.” In the Concise OED (Oxford English Dictionary), the words porkies and porky pie are formally defined – under the entry porky – as “British rhyming slang a lie.”
I believe that rhyming slang in English is broadly known by learners of English now. Alas, the use of rhyming slang in English hardly represents how commonly and diversely English speakers and writers depart from what is normally expected in English.
David Crystal, eminent British linguist and author of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, once labelled this type of language use as ‘linguistic strangeness’. In his article Linguistic Strangeness (1990) Crystal wrote: “it is normal linguistic behaviour in most linguistic situations to depart from what is conceived of as a norm for that context.” By “norm”, as Crystal clarifies, he means the “traditional, majority usage, intuitively appreciated and potentially quantifiable”. Although Crystal talks about strangeness in terms of language in general, he actually mentions examples that he observed from everyday contexts in English specifically.
In this inaugural post, I restrain myself from diving into the complexity of the concept of ‘linguistic strangeness’ as labelled by Crystal. Yet, those who come across this blog are invited and welcome to express their general thoughts or informed knowledge on the matter.
The following posts of this blog will bring examples of strangeness in English mentioned by David Crystal and example that I observe myself. Also, please feel free to share examples of strangeness in English that you may have noticed yourself.
Be welcome and please comment!

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