Re: Medium versus message?

Subject: Re: Medium versus message?
From: eilrh -at- EXCHANGE -dot- WCC -dot- LUCENT -dot- COM
Date: Thu, 8 Aug 1996 14:28:00 -0400

I really don't think this is an appropriate discussion to have in detail
on this list, but everyone has gotten themselves so up in arms, I'm
going to address this one more time before I drop it.

Wolf Lahti wrote:
>Lisa Higgins
>>
>>If your meaning is clear and unambiguous, your language is
>>grammatically correct.
>>
>I don't think anyone would argue that "I never didn't want to do nothing so
>little" (a favorite phrase of one of my professors) is grammatically
>correct, regardless of how unambiguous its meaning. The
>Language-is-what-is-spoken School can obviously be brought to ridiculous
>extremes. We have standards, and it behooves us to abide by them.

I would. I do think it's unclear, but it IS grammatically correct. It
doesn't even violate any "hard" usage rules, as far as I know.

The "Language-is-what-is-spoken School" is called linguistics. I
challenge you to find me a real scholar in the field who will say
otherwise.

And I'm not sure who the "we" is you're talking about, but standards are
not objective. There is such an animal as Standard American English,
which is what they teach news anchors to speak and students to write,
but that's one standard for one audience, and is no more "correct" than
any other dialect. It's a lingua franca for a large, diverse place with
a lot of regional and social dialects. It's the 'safest' form to write
in (partly because of the artificial nature of written language, and
partly because of its wide acceptability), but if I knew that the
audience I was writing for all spoke a given dialect, I'd use it to
address them (as long as I, too, was familiar with it).

>Frank Herbet said, "Language can carry any burden we choose; all it takes is
>agreement, and a tradition on which to build."

Is this supposed to be an appeal to authority?

>Too many people wave the standard of the first half of that statement (_a
>la_ Lewis Carrol's Humpty Dumpty) and forget about the agreement and,
>especially, the tradition. My deciding that "trammel" means "bedroll" or
>that every sentence should end in "the" does not make what I say or write
>grammatically correct.

That's absolutely absurd. Firstly, semantics is not the issue. Colorless
green ideas sleep furiously, you know. Secondly, as a native speaker,
the only way you would end every sentence in 'the' without realizing
that it was ungrammatical were if you had a brain injury or one of a
tiny handful of genetic conditions that cause the grammar functions of
the brain to not work correctly.

>It may be argued that the rule-following school can likewise be taken to
>extremes, but given a choice between that and linguistic anarchy, I happily
>opt for the former.

Dude. We've had linguistic anarchy all along. If we hadn't, we sure as
hell wouldn't be speaking English right now. The whole concept of
'proper' vs. 'improper' usage a relatively modern one. Shakespeare,
Chaucer, and Milton never learned the "grammar" you're talking about.

Now, as I've said, I am not going to reply to any more posts on this
topic, but I'd like to suggest that before you go on about linguistics
any further, you pick up an elementary book on the subject and read it.

An understanding of basic linguistics can go a long way toward improving
your skills as a communicator.

Lisa Higgins.
eilrh -at- ei -dot- lucent -dot- com

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