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Re: CHAT: California vowels

From:Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>
Date:Thursday, October 4, 2001, 0:49
Quoting David Peterson <DigitalScream@...>:

> In a message dated 10/3/01 4:45:04 PM, trwier@MIDWAY.UCHICAGO.EDU > writes: > > << This does not sound like a person who has any first hand experience > with that pronoun. It sounds like a person who has made his > judgements based off of the Hollywoodization of Southern life, which is, to > say the least, inaccurate. Again, I'm sorry that we had this confusion > of intent. >> > > Well, I wouldn't immediately discount what goes on in movies, for > example, since the big Oxford dictionary only works with documented > usages, not just people saying that they say such-and-such all the time, and > often-times the earliest documented usages of words are in movies.
I think you're confusing two distinct notions: competence vs. performance. The latter is what you have mentioned: people often say things or write things that no one, at any time, would suggest is a grammatical sentence. They trail off, they use inappropriate case or number or wordorder or any other number of linguistic parameters. But none of these affect what a speaker will say if you ask him/her: "Is this an appropriate sentence of English?" (or whatever language you happen to be investigating), adjusting to eliminate the influence of prescriptive notions of "correctness". And films are especially prone to this, since they are examples of (highly rehearsed but no less genuine) human speech in its natural environment. Anyone who's worked on syntax knows that you have to look at the data and adjust for a great number of possible extralinguistic phenomena (like prescriptivism) before you can interpret the remaining data so you can get a sense of what the language is like in its natural state. You do this by looking at the informant's educational background, and what kinds of views they hold about language that might affect their answers. Unless you do this, you're bound to come up with plenty of bizarre claims about the language. In short, I've never once heard good evidence of "y'all" being used as a genuine singular pronoun. The best I've heard is assertions from people who admit they never use it to that effect. These are like people who know a given word exists, but don't know all the layers of meaning it has because they don't read the kinds of things in which that word is likely to be used. ============================== Thomas Wier <trwier@...> "If a man demands justice, not merely as an abstract concept, but in setting up the life of a society, and if he holds, further, that within that society (however defined) all men have equal rights, then the odds are that his views, sooner rather than later, are going to set something or someone on fire." Peter Green, in _From Alexander to Actium_, on Spartan king Cleomenes III