A few days ago, I finished reading a book called Mother Tongue: The English Language by Bill Bryson. A linguistics study of the English language and the foreign, social and cultural influences on it might not sound much of a page-turner, but I found it fascinating.
    There are many facts in it with which to dumbfound your friends at parties, such as how many different ways William Shakespeare spelled his name, but to my mind, what is most interesting is how English has always evolved and adapted. It not only includes words from other languages–from countries colonised by the English and from those who invaded us–but it has incorporated grammatical rules from other languages too. This has led to inconsistencies and various difficulties, such as obeying the Latin rule which forbids putting a preposition at the end of a sentence. Obeying these rules can make for tortuous phrasing, although the foreign additions make for such a rich vocabulary that the wonder is how any writer can be stuck for a word that fits.
    Language is a living thing, and attempts to restrict it to a set of rules laid down in the past, or by one sector of society, are doomed to fail. I get as irritated by the non-agreement of subject and verb, or the misuse of pronouns, as any other pedant, but the linguist in me realises that language changes are inevitable and resistance to new usage is as futile as fighting the Borg.
    Where does this leave writers? Most publications want you to adhere to the Oxford Manual of Style or its equivalent for the country in which they are based. Changes in language can be fleeting, and you don't want your work to sound archaic after a decade or two. That said, your characters and, possibly, narrator will need to use language appropriate to them, whether they have regional accents, are teenagers who send text messages, or are medieval knights. Exercise caution, because it's very easy to overdo idiosyncratic language. If in doubt, read what you've written aloud to show up any jawbreakers or tongue-twisters. Keep your prospective readers in mind and you shouldn't go far wrong.

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