exemplary English

A document referred to someone speaking exemplary English. I started wondering what other adjectives are used to describe people’s English. Google Ngrams’ result vary depending on what form of speak is used:

speak only good much fluent perfect little standard excellent plain correct English
speaks good fluent excellent perfect little standard bad beautiful plain tolerable English
speaking only perfect good broken standard excellent fluent little plain bad English
spoke good little perfect excellent fluent enough fair beautiful tolerable bad English

The results for spoken *_ADJ English are more mixed, using spoken primarily as an adjective

spoken British American standard only perfect plain faulty Australian Old good English

I was surprised that there aren’t more negative words used to describe people’s English. And pleased – I would rather accentuate the positive. I also wondered how many of these we would use to describe the speech of native speakers. I’d be perplexed if someone told me that I speak good or excellent or perfect English. In fact I don’t speak perfect English – my brain works faster than my tongue and I very often trip over my words. Drafting blog posts allows me to organise my thoughts. I don’t type perfect English, either. Sometimes I re-read posts and spot glaring errors which people are generally too nice to point out. 

The person referred to in the document was a second-language speaker of English. Surprisingly, Google Ngrams doesn’t record any instances of speak/speaks/speaking/spoke/spoken exemplary English. A general Google search shows 114 results for speak exemplary English, 163 for speaks (the first of which refers to Jeb Bush, who “uses English in a good old-fashioned way”), 2 for speaking, 168 for spoke and none for spoken. So it’s not a common thing to say about someone. 


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