RANDOLPH QUIRK Reader in English in the University of Durham
In his book on The Use of English,† Dr B. Ifor Evans reminds us that of all the forms that English takes today in its social and regional distribution, and of all the forms that it has taken in the past, the one that calls out most pressingly for research into its grammatical structure, is the living spoken English of educated people. It is almost incredible that after some three hundred years of active and continuous academic interest in the English language, we should still be without an even moderately detailed description of the English we speak, as opposed to the English we write.
Of course we have long been aware of a few, rather vague distinctions. In our own time and in previous generations too, grammarians have offered us comments on the difference between spoken and written English -- almost always to the detriment of the former, and generally couched in terms borrowed from other activities and disciplines than grammar. They have called spoken English less polished than written English, using a jeweller's term; or they've called it looser, drawing the image presumably from the chandler's bundles of firewood. Or they have called it less logical. William Cobbett the Radical, for example, often raises this particular objection. He hated any illogical qualification of words which he regarded as absolutes -- particularly the word reform, which to Cobbett was most sacredly absolute: one either reformed something or one did not reform it. On one occasion he takes a Whig Member of Parliament severely to task for the muddle-____________________