It is conventional wisdom that an inaugural lecture is one given by an academic who has just been appointed to a chair in a discipline. This presupposes that the notion of currency, post-appointment, is important if it is not to degenerate into a valedictory speech or exaugural lecture. That perhaps explains Adeogun’s (1986) metaphorical description of an inaugural lecture as an after-dinner speech.
Equally significant is the liberality of thematic choice of the subject. The unlimited scope has indeed thrown into sharp focus the issues of form, content and structure. As ex-Vice-Chancellor Alao (1982) opines – so we are told in Alo (2003):
An inaugural lecture should distil a problem area at a contrived level of generality to enable a mixed audience to appreciate what makes the problem tick but at the same time must maintain the minimum level of technicality necessary to preserve the integrity of the problem.
Given the wide or unrestricted scope, there is no shortage of scholars who disagree with that viewpoint because they argue that such a lecture should be the opportunity for the academic to ‘profess his discipline’, i.e. explain to both a specialist and non-specialist audience his contribution to knowledge and, by implication, societal development. To stick religiously to either view is, to my mind, a tunnel-vision-approach solution to the problem. This perhaps explains my choice of a topic that allows for problem area distillation, but, at the same time, allows for an excursus into one’s contribution to knowledge in his field – in my case, linguistics in the province of phonetics and phonology (tangentially within the contribution of sociolinguistics) as domesticated in the English language.
THE LAYMAN’S CONFUSION
To the layman, the concept of linguistics is the ability to speak many languages. Many a time, as soon as I am introduced as a linguist, the question that follows is ‘how many languages do you speak?’ I recognize that I speak at least two languages (English and Yoruba) which makes me a bilingual and with a smattering of a third (German) which does not comfortably make me a trilingual. Whichever way it is viewed, the view that a linguist speaks many languages simply confuses linguistics with polyglotism which is the ability to speak many languages, while linguistics remains the scientific study of languages.
Besides, when I speak, or specifically pronounce words in English, a number of people say [fonE] as a short form of saying ‘phonetics’. I have also received letters and some enquiries in the past about forms of assistance that I can give to teachers who supposedly teach Phonetics in primary or secondary schools. The truth of course is that such teachers do not teach Phonetics; what they teach is English pronunciation or oral English. These forms of terminological confusion, or more appropriately, inexactitude require that one explains a few basic terms before plunging, headlong, into the thrust of this lecture which is to find out how the intersection of good spoken English and sociophonology is of value to man and his society.
One of the readily identified characteristics of human language is that it is primarily oral. Our species are said to have spoken long before we began to write. In any introductory lecture I give to freshmen in the universities on the rationale for teaching spoken English, I usually identify the following:
a. the primacy of speech in human communication, i.e. that we first speak through expressive noises before we start writing and the fact that human