Straight into wall of semi-literacy
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Straight into wall of semi-literacy

It was the word that launched a hundred shrugs of the shoulder where some sort of indignation would have been understandable. A word that no doubt hundreds if not thousands of Maltese people use daily and continue to use even after someone has probably helpfully tried to correct them.

But the word in question brought to mind a very Maltese malady: Why do so many of our countrymen not care about using the right language for things and lambast anyone who tries to correct them?

In case anyone was wondering, the torrid example I’m bringing forward today is the word ‘slipper’. In any world except ours, slippers (plural because most people have been blessed with two feet instead of one) are usually soft, comfortable shoes that you wear indoors. However, for some reason unbeknownst to me, many Maltese people have decided that trainers/running shoes/gym shoes are indeed a pair of slippers or more commonly, ‘a slipper’. Now, let’s say for argument’s sake that no one knows any better and everyone and their mother has been slipper-ing everywhere for years. Wouldn’t you feel inclined to change the way you say it or look it up once someone has told you otherwise? Apparently not.

No one owns words; a word is either used rightly or in this case very, very wrongly

When someone brought this up on the internet recently, the overall reaction was swift and impetuous: Why should I use “your word” when you perfectly understood mine? The mind boggles. Contrary to what many people may think, no one owns words; a word is either used rightly or in this case very, very wrongly. In addition to this possibly innovative-for-some thought, a word does not become correct just because that’s the way you say it, in the same way that carrots don’t become apples just because you’ve been led to believe that they are. This attitude of everything goes, which for some inexplicable reason seems to be upheld by so many, holds us back from being better people and to be honest, I’m sick of it.

Words are not toys to be bandied around at will: they are fixed constructs. They are also there for a reason. Keeping in mind that all Maltese children have been receiving compulsory English lessons since they were five for some time now, the excuses for not knowing certain basic things or worse still, not even bothering to learn them keep wearing ever thinner. Of course, there will always be that motley crew of faux patriots who will say that since we are Maltese, we should only speak Maltese but given the pidgin phrases they write in our mother tongue, I’d hazard a guess that they’re interested in learning neither language properly and just want to standardise their own insecurities and mental laziness to repeat a word properly. In short, it’s just ignorance and precious little more.

Writer Rita Mae Brown once wrote: “Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”

I think it would be nice for all of us if the one place we weren’t going is straight into the wall of semi-literacy.

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