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Notion of Correctness in Speech
 by: Samir K. Dash

There is an old story about a girl, who asked her grand pa whether he keeps his long beard over or under the blanket while sleeping. Until then the grand pa never thought of this , but from that moment he tossed and turned every night trying to decide what to do with the beard – the poor fellow had become “beard conscious”.

And this story points to one aspect of learning a second language (especially in spoken form with its odd accent and intonation etc.) that may be foreign to students while learning to master it. And during this struggle they become “spoken conscious” and find themselves in the frame of grand pa, tossing and turning every time they attempt to speak in this alien language.

It is natural that we in this age of growing psychological advances and superficial talks of the analysis of human psychological conditions look for a linguistic standard to be available to use in our communications. Hence, we find ourselves increasingly join hands in the so called movement of correctness in English, both in speech and writing.

We are careful about the proper accent of English, while speaking. Even many of us attend the accentuation class. The growing industry of BPO and outsourcing in Asian region also has influenced many to talk like Americans, or the British. Because, it is the need of the hour .

But fact is somewhat different than this. The child learns from very early age to respond to the sounds and tunes which his elders habitually use in talking to him; and in due course, from a need to communicate, he begins to imitate the re-current sound patterns with which he has become familiar. In other words, he begins to make use of speech; and his constant exposure to the spoken form of his own language, together with his need to convey increasingly subtle types of information, leads to a rapid acquisition of the frame work of his spoken language.

With all the conditions in his favor, a number of years will pass before he has mastered not only the sound system used in his community but also has at his disposal a vocabulary of any extent.

It is no wonder that the learning of another language later in life there fore acquired artificiality in belief and sporadic spells of activity and without the stimulus arising from an immediate need for communication, will tend to be tedious and rarely more than particularly successful.

But the more in a later life, a second language is attempted to master, the more the learner will find resistances and prejudices deriving from the frame work of his original language. It may be said that as we grow older, the acquisition of new language will normally entail a great deal of conscious, analytical effort instead of the child’s ready and facile imitation.

Therefore, learning to speak in a second language is, as Horace Coon sees it, both a “discipline” and a “liberation”. We must at the first case understand that speaking is though a creative art, it is also a part of natural expression. In fact speech is a kind of emotional release through self expression.

But we tend to search for a ‘standard’ of in any language and therefore, the questions ‘what is correct?’ in speech becomes more frequent among all kinds of people. We search for a ‘standard’ which we can use as a model, so that we can hide our secondariness to the language.

But the one fact which people tend to forget , according to C.L.Wren is that when a speaker becomes exactly conscious of his speech, that speech will become less natural – less truly the expression of his own personality. And then follows a communication gap.

Another thing that we can discuss in this context is that what is criteria of good speech . Is the main criterion to be aesthetic or practical? If we choose beauty as the main criterion and choose the kind of speech that pleases our ear, then we may find that there is no absolute definition of beauty itself. Then what we can expect here is to be practical in using speech. And this means the emphasis of speech in any language should be given to the wide range of propose to which the speech gives itself. And as the change is taking place in our society at a higher value acceleration, the variety of propose also increase, and hence the use of speech as well as the language itself. So it is wrong to state that a particular kind of speech in English is the standard for all. Rather what one should do is to understand the role of his use of language in a given context and accordingly he can use it to achieve his goal.

About The Author

Samir K. Dash is a MA in English (UGC-NET qulaified) from Ravenshaw College, Cuttack (INDIA). Currently he is working as senior content developer at

He can be contacted at his homepage:


This article was posted on March 08, 2005


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