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Basically the Englishes

As has been instanced in more than one earlier post, contemporary English wherever it is spoken all over the globe takes its cue for stylistic and grammatical development from the native speech of America in particular and the United Kingdom in second place. This characterization seems to apply to discourse markers like “as it were,” “if you like,” “so to speak,” “honestly,” etc., as well as to the strictly grammatical composition of speech.

The interpolation of the word “basically” to qualify or fudge what is being asserted is an increasing presence in all the Englishes. What this phenomenon means is the global impulse, when resorting to English as the means of one’s linguistic expression, not to make categorical assertions, to protect oneself from the potential repercussions that may ensue from blanket statements signifying the veracity of the content of one’s utterances. This resort to “basically” in non-native as well as native varieties of English is a sign of a fundamental attitudinal shift in how speakers have come to construe the social and behavioral contexts of expressing themselves linguistically. This retreat from old-fashioned British and American English plainspokenness is much to be regretted.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

One Response to “Basically the Englishes”

  • Gary Richmond says:

    A recent op-ed piece in the NYTimes supports your conclusion. It was written by a woman who, through career and marriage, has found herself, in recent years, sometimes living in France, sometimes in England. Her experience is that the French remain plainspoken while the English no longer are.

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