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Mind your English language

While most people accept that language will change with use and time, Sarah Churchwell appears to justify the increasing Americanisation of British English (A neologism thang, innit, 10 May). Noah Webster may have produced the language that should be known as "American", but that should not be a reason, as Churchwell seems to imply, for British English to be altered to the American version. American is characterised by a plethora of "z"s and a paucity of "u"s, which doesn't even reflect the way we pronounce many of the affected words. Churchwell seems to view the French influence on our language as in need of purging. This has no justification. The French influence is part of the Latin history of English, as is the impact of Spanish and Italian.

American terms and spelling are imposed on us via the internet, but television and lazy journalism are also to blame. Not only is it "new" words, but creating verbs from nouns is common. Witness her own example "hierarchize". American versions of words are too common, as in "bathroom" or "rest room" for toilet, "airplane" for aeroplane, and "stroller" for buggy. Our English is a rich and varied language – it needs a strong defence.

John Edwards

Linlithgow, West Lothian

• There's no need for Sarah Churchwell to come back to these shores and feel the underdog, just because she's an ex-colonial speaker of English. As such she must know that language, above all, is social. She condemns "innit" but not "gotten" because, at the moment, the former usage is English underclass and the latter American mainstream. They both sound horrible, or OK, according to taste; some even think they are "cool", democratic, like.

But no amount of genealogical research citing Shakespeare will effectively whitewash the social meaning of each. They are abominable not because they sound awful, but because they represent a depressed and depressing social status in England, on the one hand, and a bland, thoughtless, faux-classless, sold-by-the-yard cultural wallpaper from the US, on the other.

Dr James Andrade

St Albans, Hertfordshire

• What a pity Sarah Churchwell spoils her otherwise well-made case about the inevitability of language change by a careless remark in her final paragraph: "From an aesthetic standpoint, 'innit' remains an abomination." Perhaps this was intended as tongue-in-cheek, but if so, I doubt it will be interpreted as such by the purists she mentions. And if not, then Prof Churchwell of all people must know there's no such thing as intrinsically aesthetically inferior (or superior) language. As her article demonstrates, it's a matter of personal preference and prejudice.

Prof Jennifer Jenkins

Chair of Global Englishes, University of Southampton

• I agree with Sarah Churchwell's attitude to the evolution of English, but I wish to defend "innit", which she categorises as an abomination. Most languages have a simple way of designating a question expecting the answer "yes", eg "n'est ce pas?" or "nich wahr?". English has instead a bewildering variety of phrases – "didn't he?", "won't they?", "am I not?" – which have to be crafted for each context, a task which some non-native speakers find difficult. "Innit" fills the vacant role of a generic verbal question-mark inviting agreement. I predict that it will achieve the accolade of inclusion in the OED well before such redundant items as "grrl".

Herbert Munk


• I can explain to Sarah Churchwell why Scrabblers prefer the word "amongst" to "among". Using all seven tiles at once gains a bonus of 50 points. To begin a debate, it would be interesting to learn the strength of feeling amongst players who believe one should always know the definition of their chosen word.

Mollie Holden

Westgate-on-sea, Kent

• The ending of "vendor" and "neighbour" is pronounced differently on both sides of the Atlantic. Not just kowtowing to the French!

Alexander Good