Ms Alex Scott MBE was a world-class English footballer and is now a brilliant TV sports presenter, with a talent for articulate, informed analytical commentary which puts others in the shade. She went to St Peter’s London Docks Primary school in Wapping.
Mr Digby Marritt Jones, who now calls himself Lord Digby Jones (although Stephen Fry OBE points out that the correct wording should be Digby Lord Jones), has no talent for linguistic analysis. He was privately educated at Bromsgrove School, one of the very oldest British Public Schools.
During the Olympics, Digby tweeted disparagingly about the most common pronunciation around the world of words like running and throwing, namely “runnin” and “throwin”.
Alex, from a working class London family, uses these pronunciations. Pathetically, the fact that she does this when broadcasting “ruins the Olympics” for Digby. With a breathtaking air of an authority which he is not entitled to, he confidently asserts: “not sounding a g at the end of a word is wrong; period.”
No it isn’t. He is wrong.
And in attacking Alex for this, he is exhibiting an appalling degree of bigotry in attacking her for being non-public school in her pronunciation. The comprehensive school-educated Conservative cabinet minister Priti Patel also uses the same pronunciation, but so far Digby has not tweeted insultingly about her accent.
I leave it to other commentators to discuss the moral and ethical issues of his tweet – Stephen Fry tells Jones he is “a disgrace to the Upper House”.
But linguistically I am happy to assert that it is totally ignorant to claim that the pronunciation of running as “runnin” involves “dropping a g”: there is no g sound there to drop.
The two letters ng stand for a single nasal consonant which bears the same relationship to n that g does to d. (Try saying bang, ban and then bag, bad, and you’ll see what I mean.)
It’s unfortunate that English doesn’t have a single letter to represent this sound and has to use two, as with sh, ch and th. Saying “sip” rather than “ship” doesn’t involve leaving out an h; and saying “runnin” rather than “running” doesn’t involve leaving out a g.
Modern English -ing performs two different grammatical jobs: turning verbs like walk into nouns (called gerunds), as in “walking is good for you”; and producing present participles, as in “she’s walking down the road”. In mediaeval English, the gerunds had the -ing ending, but the present participles had -end.
Eventually, the Standard English dialect lost the distinction between the gerund and participle forms, using -ing for both. Many other dialects also lost the distinction but used -end for both. If Alex and Priti, like millions of others, say “walken”, this is because there was in once a d there, but it was dropped long ago.
Digby Lord Jones must surely be guilty himself of dropping the g in words like gnat, gnash and gnome. These were all pronounced with the g intact until it was dropped in the 1500s. Perhaps he should start a Twitter campaign to have this g reintroduced, although it might have ruined the Olympics for some viewers if commentators started talking of “the g-nawing anxiety” experienced by competitors.
Since the 1600s, English speakers from Britain, Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand have used the term “full stop” to refer to the punctuation mark which occurs at the end of this sentence. Americans and Canadians – and Lord Digby Jones – use the even older term “period” for the same piece of punctuation.