Re: Common Errors in English

Subject: Re: Common Errors in English
From: "Mark Baker" <listsub -at- analecta -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 22 Feb 2004 17:54:04 -0500

Dick Margulis wrote:

> > Language is a
> > reflection of our language and our values. It is subtle where our values
> > subtle, and course
> [Ahh, but here we have a different situation. Surely course is a
> late-night typo for coarse and you, Mark, would not have us lose (or,
> lately, loose, apparently) the distinction. This is the type of
> "error"--transmission noise--that it is well to avoid if we can when we
> go to print but that does not bear on the relationship between culture
> and vocabulary that you are talking about]

Ah, but it does, and there is more to my latenight errors than mere
transmission noise. Vocabulary mutates and pronunciation mutates, but since
spelling was first standardized it has hardly mutated at all. It has been
centuries since we pronounced "knife" with a K sound, but the spelling
persists. Our spelling is, as a result, a hopeless mishmash. We have words
with the same sound with different spellings for each meaning, and words
with the same sound and the same sound with the same spelling. We even have
words with different sounds and the same spelling. And we have lots and lots
of words for which the spelling is miles away from the actual pronunciation.

It makes sense that spelling has tended to remain relatively fixed. We don't
read phonetically, but by recognizing patterns. And we can recognize far
more patterns than we can remember, which is why so many of us who can read
fluently still have trouble spelling. (Spelling ability does not seem to be
a matter of either education or intelligence. Some of the brightest and most
highly educated have relied on people of more modest educational achievement
to fix their spelling.)

Note that I am not arguing that correct spelling is not important. (It is
very important and I wish I were better at it.) Nor am I arguing that
spelling should be reformed. That's been tried, and failed, several times.
Like the QWERTY keyboard, I suspect, we are stuck with eighteenth century
spelling for centuries to come. It may be sub-optimal, but the patterns are
too ingrained ever to be changed.

But the consequence of this is that as language and pronunciation continue
to shift, spelling will become even more out of sync with language. And
people who have a hard time internalizing the increasingly arbitrary
patterns of written words will have a harder and harder time spelling
correctly. The variability of spelling which, combined with my limited
ability to internalize arbitrary patterns, makes me a poor speller. My
errors, therefore, or at least my susceptibility to making those errors, may
thus be attributed very much to the cultural drift of language. (Plus my
inability to type!)

> where our values are course. Language does not drift --
> > it is swept back and forth by the tide of culture.
> >
> In any case, I was merely making a meta-argument about the various
> positions people take on the issue of linguistic change, not trying to
> express my own position or claim possession of eternal truth on the

I know. My post was intended more in the vein of "what's more..." rather
than "on the contrary."



RE: Common Errors in English: From: David Locke
Re: Common Errors in English: From: Dick Margulis
Re: Common Errors in English: From: Mark Baker
Re: Common Errors in English: From: Dick Margulis

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