… I was shocked too.
Recently he has released this song; Weird Al’s Word Crimes. Weird Al is apparently quite the prescriptivist and is annoyed enough about how other people speak to write a song about it.
There is an excellent show on Perth’s RTR FM radio called talk the talk.
A few weeks ago Daniel and Ben pulled this song apart and touch on some great language issues and why language peeves are silly. The presenters talk about how language is and has been used in the past, that language is ever evolving and about code switching amongst other things.
The podcast exists here —>Talk the Talk – Word Crimes
This seemed relevant to me in relation to some discussions early on in the unit about how we use words and prescriptivism.
It is well worth the listen and you may just want to listen to more. (There’s also a great one on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis!)
I thought this comic was a perfect example of how English grammar has been changed, and what each English speaker considers good, bad, or even ‘acceptable grammar’. This comic relates to ‘Got milk?’ a very successful campaign ran by the American advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners.
What is interesting to note is that this campaign is grammatically incorrect, but not incomprehensible to native English speakers. According to Borjars & Burridge (2010), the basic structural characteristic of English interrogatives is (operator (finite auxillary) – subject – rest of predicate). Curiously, ‘Got Milk?’ is completely missing a subject and also considering that ‘Got’ is in its past participle form of ‘get’, this incomplete phrase is also missing the perfect-past marker ‘have’. In English, one typically does not form questions by using the past tense of a verb: “cooked food?” “Made cake?”.
As comically demonstrated in the picture above, a grammatically acceptable interpretation of ‘Got Milk?’ could be ‘have you got (any) milk’? or, ‘do you have milk?’. Interestingly, the use of ‘got’ in lieu of ‘have’ is typical of British English, not standard American.
I feel the advertisers used the past tense ‘got’ to invoke its possessive quality, such as ‘are you in possession of milk? Or ‘have you remembered to pick up milk’, though these long-winded phrases don’t communicate well with the busy consumer.
The ‘Got Milk?’ campaign used a cool, catchy and slange-like way of communicating with its desired audience, even creating a craze out of it.
This campaign spurred many other parodies, such as PETA’s anti-milk initiative ‘Got Pus?’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Got_Milk%3F
It is also interesting to note that the ‘Got Milk’ campaign is not alone in this industry. Many advertising slogans appear to use incorrect grammar in order to reach their audience: Apple’s ‘Think Different’ as opposed to ‘Think Differently’, and Subway’s ‘Eat Fresh’ (Eat Freshly).
Hugh Laurie, the quintessential Englishman, had millions of Americans believing that he was just as American as his television character Gregory House. It’s all in the accent it seems – the pronunciation; learning the phonology of a particular dialect and copying it. Hugh Laurie did it so well that he fooled millions and, even when it became widely known that he is not in fact American, his character of House was still accepted as being so.
What a bobby-dazzler you are Hugh. You’re a bottler! Of course, if I did meet Hugh and told him I thought he was a ‘bottler’ he would not be pleased and accept the compliment; instead, no doubt he would be extremely offended. The reason is that, even though we may be able to ‘trick’ people by sounding like we belong to a certain cultural/social group, it is our understanding (or misunderstanding) of the semantics and different ways of using words within that group which indicate ‘belonging’ and that is harder to replicate. For me a ‘bottler’ is Australian slang meaning that a person is exceptional – their blood is worth bottling. On the other hand, in English slang, a ‘bottler’ is a coward. (http://www.bbc.co.uk).
So then, apart from Standard English and regional dialects and different accents, we also have speech registers that are “varieties associated with particular contexts or purposes” (Borjars & Burridge, 2010, p. 8). Slang, regional idioms and colloquialisms are part of a socio-cultural speech register.
To illustrate this, I have chosen a YouTube video showing Hugh Laurie and Ellen DeGeneres baffling with their slang. Please enjoy.
Borjars, K. and Burridge, K. (2010). Introducing English grammar. (2ed). London: Hodder Education.