Letter: Threatened by linguistic Stalinism

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The Independent Online
Sir: It seems the Conservatives - the self-proclaimed party of the individual, of personal responsibility - are now going to tell us how to speak. The arguments marshalled by Susan Elkin in favour of this ('Prisoners of incomprehensible English', 17 October), however, bear further scrutiny.

It is often said that parts of Scotland speak the purest English; Edinburgh and Aberdeen have laid claim. So why not then teach the nation to speak with a Scottish lilt? Because it would be totally ridiculous; just as it would be ridiculous to teach someone from, say, Tyneside to speak some hybrid southern accent. And are we going to have the Welsh learn Welsh, English and then English with a foreign accent?

Ms Elkin claims 'historical and cultural universality' for her own accent.

Just what does this grand-sounding term mean? It gives the impression of a sound rooted in antiquity, but surely the 'universality' of her accent can only date back to radio in the 1920s, when an educated elite ruled the airwaves and presumed that theirs was the only proper way of speaking.

If she cannot understand what people speaking a dialect are saying, it is probably because she cannot be bothered to make the effort, having already judged her interlocutor by the way he or she speaks. If someone uses a term you do not understand - be it a dialect word, technical jargon or a foreign word - what is the harm in asking what it means? Is there anyone in Yorkshire who does not know that down here we call male sheep 'rams', and that if he or she says 'tup' to a southerner it might need a brief explanation?

Ms Elkin's thoughts on vocabulary and confidence surely have some validity, but the rest is pure elitism; worse than that, it is linguistic Stalinism, and should be strangled at birth.

Long live the difference] Yours, NICK ALLEN Oxford