Mea Culpa: we didn’t never use to use this dialect of English

John Rentoul on questions of style and usage in last week’s Independent

Saturday 03 October 2020 09:07
Jason Alexander, known for his roles in ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Pretty Woman’
Jason Alexander, known for his roles in ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Pretty Woman’

We quoted some comments made by Jason Alexander, the actor who played Philip Stuckey, the misogynistic lawyer in Pretty Woman, and added: “Interestingly, Alexander almost never succeeded in securing the role, as director Garry Marshall thought he was ‘too baby-faced and little’.”

Thanks to Paul Edwards for pointing out that, although “never” for “didn’t” was “fairly standard in speech where I grew up” it is not conventional in British English, or the dialect of it in which The Independent is written. 

Paul reminded me of the saying popularised by Max Weinreich, the linguist and Yiddish expert: “A language is a dialect with an army and navy.” What Weinreich could have added is that a language has style books, and a home guard of pedants who are convinced that their dialect is right and other dialects are wrong. 

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