I've started collecting the writings of powerful prescriptivists. Many are familiar. Some are new to me. But among the opinions of both familiar and new writers I keep finding surprising claims that leave me shaking my head.
Many of their arguments are effective. I would have hailed and lauded them several years ago. Then I started to study language and I found many of my ideas foolish. But I don't think I would have ever agreed with something like this statement that Mark Halpern (one of the recurring voices) makes in a footnote to one of his pieces.
Those of us who regard the patois of the Black ghetto as inferior do so not because we think it lacks "internal logic"-if it did, it could not serve as a medium of communication at all-but because it demonstrably lacks the means of expressing many ideas and shades of meaning that standard English possesses.
I literally gasped when I read this. Really. I inhaled audibly--mouth agape. Is he choosing to ignore the fact (or is he merely unaware) that mainstream English also lacks the "means" of expressing what other varieties can?
But it gets worse. When I read the following in the same footnote I physically backed away from the computer--my heartbeat noticeable faster. Briefly addressing the accusations that prescriptivism is often based on racist principles he scoffs--claiming that the desire to erase all variation is the opposite of racism.
If prescriptivists were racists, we would want to perpetuate the disadvantages of Blacks, not remove them; cultural elitists we may be, but elitists who want others to share our lofty status.
The mind boggles (and is boggled despite Jacque Barzun's objections).
Halpern focuses most of his criticism against leading linguists like Geoffrey Nunberg and Steven Pinker who respond to some of his claims but have other more important things to do. I'm early enough in my career to work on shaping it against such egregiously arrogant and bigoted claims.