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About linguistic (in)tolerance

From:Tom Wier <artabanos@...>
Date:Thursday, March 25, 1999, 21:57
Brian Betty wrote:

> Brian Betty wrote: [the pretentious using words like misusification] > > "This kinda begs the question, though. How do you know what a "grammatical > error" is? Can you point to any objective measure of such a thing? The > past tense of "help" used to be "holp": are we all now speaking > "ungrammatically"?" > > I still think we are taking this comment of mine way, way too seriously. I > have already confessed that I care little for grammatical errors, it is > word construction that makes me mad. And I judge by ear, and I already > confessed that in the future, people probably will think I was a prig. To > answer your question: well, then, why don't we just all abandon all speech > standards. We'll just talk how we like. Coherency doesn't matter at all. > We'll take no pride in our speech, we'll just babble.
Um, I hate to break it to you, but this is what most people, in most periods of history, including today, have always done. The very idea of "standards" of speech did not even exist until people in the ruling classes started making one (for English anyways) about 300 years ago. This is not to say that standards are bad for language; they are in fact very good, but your whole attitude was one of intolerance, as if you have never (in your entire life) done the same thing too. Everybody has done stuff like that, and it doesn't really matter. Bridges will not fall down, nor will civilizations collapse, because someone says "faxilate", I'm sorry. The reason why the official line of linguistics is to tolerate these things is because they show us more clearly how human beings use language, which is, afterall, the study upon which we focus our efforts. To try to tell people how to use their language imposes a false restriction on it, as language has *always* been a changing entity in human societies. By definition it has always changed with the times, and if people want to use in a way that goes against perceptions of standards, that's a *personal* problem, not a linguistic one, so let's not be attacking people here because their language use is below some one else's perceived standards (being that any such standards are entirely subjective, anyways). This is why when you corrected someone here, you got a response that was personal, not linguistic.
> All cultures have a privileged form of speech, patterns and word choices > that are considered more elegant than others. All persons participate in > influencing these preferred speech patterns, and I have a right to have > preferences.
No one's taking your right away. What we're saying here is that while you may have preferences, you should also know when to voice them, and know that they are NO MORE THAN PREFERENCES. I still have a few prescriptivist hangups myself (like using "there's" with plural nouns; I always use there're in those cases), but even though some people here use phrases which I consider "bad grammar" (whatever that is), I'm not going to tell them they're wrong or bad for using it. Afterall, I know my belief cannot be argued objectively, so I don't try. They only derive from my personal beliefs about what language should be, not from what it de facto is (i.e., I like the forms, but it's an opinion).
> If there were no preferred forms of speech, there would be no > languages.
Pshaw. Nonsense. Languages existed long before the grammarians in the 17th and 18th centuries began to formulate standardized forms of them. What do you think they based their standards on? Something pulled out of the air, ex nihilo? No, of course not. All modern standards are the way they are because one group dominated another group. If the capitol of England had traditionally been up north, say, in Lindisfarne (or something like that), the modern Standard English language would be much, much different, I assure you. It has nothing to do with preferences, but with the practical capacity to communicate to another person.
> Prejudice is built in. That said, there are flexibilities in > preferred speech patterns. I have no problem with most of the recent fads > of speech. I just hate people making words longer to make them sound > smarter. I am highly suspicious of attempts to convince the world that > there are 'no linguistic bases for speech preferences.'
> Well, there are no > scientific bases for cultures, but as humans we need cultural patterns to > function.
You're confusing two very separate things: on the one hand, there is the matter of whether or not there are regular rules that govern language, rules that everybody follows, though few know why. That's one issue, and one with which I fully agree: people do need such rules, and in fact all language is built on such rules, as making rules and extending paradigms is the path of least resistance (one then does not need to memorize countless individual forms, as rules tell how such forms are created). Such things are natural; people don't need anyone to tell them to use them correctly (for example, in English the uses of the article "the" or what a plural ending -s really signifies). On the other hand, there is the matter of whether or not there is a *right* way to talk -- and this is much much different from what you've been discussing above. This involves whether or not one must use "shall" or "will" with certain personal pronouns. This involves not using "split infinitives" (of course, no such thing has ever existed in English, the grammarians to the contrary). Such things are matters of _style_, of subjective usage, which some people centuries ago arbitrarily said were the correct forms (whether because they, the upper class, used them, or because they were modelled, usually falsely, on other languages like Latin, perceived to be "better", somehow). None of this refers to how language ever really functioned (language, you will remember, is simply the sum total of all intelligible usages for a certain speech community; yes, yes this is a simplisitic definition, but it'll do for the sake of the argument now). This is not to say that such subjective standardization is *bad*; as I've said, much to the contrary. No speech form, whatever the case, can be bad. But there is nothing about its form, inherently, that makes it a better communicator of ideas, except that it provides a neutral dialect. That's all, and that is the only reason why any standard should be taught in school. Lest you think I'm shooting myself in the foot here, no, I'm not: just because *a* standard is good, that doesn't mean any *one* standard is. So, if you try to tell someone that their speech is bad, there is every bit as much reason for them to say the same about yours. Whatever the "Standard" is, it's only a social construct.
> Deaf persons in Honduras make up their own linguistic rules and > play by them; no-one who speaks can do so without rules. To pretend that > persons have no prejudices against certain speech-patterns or word uses is > not a mature position to take. You can disagree with my dislikes, but then > you are merely stating that YOUR rules are better than mine.
Again, we're talking about two fundamentally different types of rules. I'm talking about the kinds of stuff people do instinctively, whereas you have been arguing for the legitimacy of proscriptive, "here's-what's-best" rules. I'm *describing*, you're *prescribing*.
> And I already noted that I wasn't concerned about people's 'misuse' of > English except when errors occur when a person is self-aggrandising.
Again, this is a personal problem, not linguistic. Please, if you want to discuss someone's personal problems, please email them, but don't make everyone on the list experience the personal grief you suffer just because someone happens to use a word in a pretensious way. This has nothing to do with the objectives of the list, so let's keep it offlist.
> People trying to look educated by making words longer.
My experience is that a lot of people I know use longer words because they fit the meaning better (because they know the more precise meaning). Of course there are people who want to make themselves sound big by using big words, but there is absolutely no reason to assume that of a person (especially someone you don't know in any other way than on the net) just because they happen to inundate you with them :) Moreover, there are going to be people who have different views about what's good and bad language, compared to you. For example, I see no problem with using words like "inundate" instead of "flood", because to me there is no difference in terms of one being a big word and the other not... I hear both with approximately the same frequency.
> "Where do such rules come from? Some guy writing a grammar book in > Southern England several hundred years ago, that's where. Certainly not > from a survey of the linguistic habits of all English speakers." > > Some rules, yes. But to say that all the rules used to teach Standard > English are useless and should be tossed because some dead white guy > invented them is a buncha bantha-fodder.
No one's saying that. It's a matter of whether that dead white guy was trying to *impose* some "correct" grammar on someone, or whether he was simply describing the de facto linguistic situation. Up until this century, most discussion of grammar was of the former, not the latter. There *is no correct form of the language*, let that be made clear. Using words like "correct" (or having a prescriptivist attitude) in trying to describe language is in fact presumptuous, as it tacitly assumes that you are somehow better qualified to identify what best communicates an idea to someone else. Different words have different meanings to different people, and so there is just no way to know for sure whether another person is just trying to be pretensious, or is trying to do a better job of communicating... maybe that person used a shade of meaning with the word of which you were unaware.
> I am not opposed to people being > taught Standard English in the schools of their respective countries, and I > think that is not the discussion I was aiming to have anyway. But I'm more > than happy to have that conversation.
No, people *should* be taught Standard English (preferably World Standard English), but only because it *exists* and is, de facto, the most respected dialect. But it is only one of many dialects, and so this is only a practical consideration, not a theoretical one.
> And I hope this wasn't taken too harshly; I am just being honest, not > trying to piss anyone off.
Well, as others have already commented, you come off sometimes as a little intolerant. If you don't mean this, we'd like to know, but the appearance is the same, nonetheless. ======================================================= Tom Wier <artabanos@...> ICQ#: 4315704 AIM: Deuterotom Website: <> "Cogito ergo sum, sed credo ergo ero." There's nothing particularly wrong with the proletariat. It's the hamburgers of the proletariat that I have a problem with. - Alfred Wallace ========================================================