Re: English is evolving.. what to do? what to do?

Subject: Re: English is evolving.. what to do? what to do?
From: Trey Jones <TJones -at- DATAWARE -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 7 Mar 1996 11:17:00 EST

Beverly Parks <bparks -at- HUACHUCA-EMH2 -dot- ARMY -dot- MIL> wrote:

>I'm not a linguist, nor have I ever studied linguistics.
>However, I did look it up in the dictionary. ;-)

>I don't think it is fair to compare linguistic rules with
>grammar rules. They are not the same. I think linguistics deals
>with human speech, regardless whether it is grammatically
>correct or not. Just because a particular sentence follows the
>positional rules of linguistics does not make that sentence
>correct grammatically.

And I reply:

Unfortunately, looking "linguistics" up in most dictionaries isn't enough to
qualify as a linguist.. you gotta at least look it up in an encyclopedia :)

I don't want to go too deeply into any purely linguistic discussion here,
since it is off my main topic, off topic for the list, and for fear my
asbestos underwear will not be enough.. BUT, here we go (but not too

Linguistic rules are, by definition, grammar rules.. they just aren't
necessarily Grammar Rules (which are the ones you find in Strunk & White, in
the MLA handbook, in 7th grade English teacher's heads, etc). The main
difference between descriptive grammar and prescriptive Grammar is the
notion that one set of rules is necessarily "correct", or inherently
"better" than another. So (in the minimum of words), to the descriptive
linguist, any set of rules that is consistently followed by a successfully
communicating group of users *is* grammatical.

If you (this is the "you" that is less formal than "one", not anybody in
particular..) feel that there is a "correct" set of rules for English or any
other language that cannot change without degrading the language, then my
question is: Why don't you speak Chaucer's Middle English? Heck, why not
restore the language to an even more pristine state: Old English? If not,
how are you going to explain yourself to the Venerable Bede? Beowulf will be
pissed, and he's probably bigger'n you!

It is egotistical to assmue that present-day Standard English is best just
because it is the standard to which you ascribe.. though I'm not trying to
label anyone thusly.. it is also an extremely useful and valuable
*practical* standard.. but from a language point of view, it isn't any
better than any other language or dialect. (From a speaker's point of view,
it is even deficient in some respects. Those areas are the ones where many
dialects have changed.)

Getting back to the original topic of how to handle these changes in the
language when writing.. I suppose I overlooked the ideological solution:
simply label them imperfections, degradations, and degenerations.. then
ignore them. If that is the path suggested, then I suggest we simply agree
to disagree, since that debate generally comes down to an argument of

Trey Jones
"Don't confuse my inability to type with an inability to write!"

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