Language Rules

Definately Fixing Alot Of Americas Grammar 1 Word At A Thyme

Fair Enough

with 2 comments

I came across this witty and thoughtful essay by an professor in language and linguistics, the author of several such works on the English language and its nature in American society, at my former institution of higher education regarding perspectives on language of varying dialects, origins, and, shall we say, “prescriptive correctness.” His view, like many others’, including even mine, is that grammar that seems improper, and language that seems incorrect, are forms of grammar and of language nonetheless and should be seen as acceptable, not as an indication that the knowledge of language has diminished to any discernable degree. He further refutes any opinions to the contrary:

“The use of non-standard English is often incorrectly linked to a decline in intellectual standards. Unbending supporters of standard English insist that without enforced measures of correctness, language will decay, communication will break down, and civilization as we know it will disappear. Literacy, already imperiled, will deteriorate even further. And scores on standardized tests will plummet.

“But, although warnings that linguistic diversity will produce cultural decay have been bandied about for centuries now, variety in language is a sign of health rather than disease. Language dies not when it is misused, but when it is silenced. It is more likely that English will meet its end through the inappropriate splitting of atoms, not infinitives; through international discord, not subject-verb disagreements.”

Touché. What annoys me, though, and what probably similarly annoys most other folks who remotely care about these sorts of things, is not in the least linguistic diversity but precisely decaying language. To me, there needs to be a distinction between variance in usage of English for purposeful reasons versus accidental reasons. I don’t think anyone would argue that the author of an essay riddled with grammatical and orthographic mistakes is simply expressing his or her linguistic diversity; rather, the argument would likely be that he or she doesn’t know the guidelines of the language very well.

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Written by benferguson

2006 Sep 6 at 17:49

Posted in grammar, language, spelling

2 Responses

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  1. Errr… no, I think that is exactly the point.

    From the article again, further down : I doubt that language diversity will become politically correct in academe in the near future. English teachers cling tenaciously to the gatekeeping function served by the proper use of language. . . And people still carry with them the notion that in matters of language, there is just one right way of speaking and writing.

    Decay = diversity, it’s just a question of perspective.


    2006 Sep 13 at 07:37

  2. Descriptivists are not in favour of using grammatical and orthographic mistakes in order to express one’s linguistic diversity. Descriptive linguistics is about describing how language is used. This includes describing what is standard, what is nonstandard and what is a variation from the norm. Here’s a good article by a descriptivist on the subject:


    2007 Feb 7 at 12:45

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