The Facebookers are after me. This post arises from the same comment thread that spawned the last post.
in my opinion the best way to observe grammar is by noting how fluent speakers purposefully form their sentences, not by how some people wish sentences were formed. and if i want to be a good writer -- i'll learn from the example good writers (tho not always from their advice).
Friend the Second responded:
Who defines "fluent" and "good writers"? To me, they are the ones who use the language in a consistent manner to convey information in the most clear and concise manner. So the people I consider "fluent", you would probably consider stagnant. For me, the language is a communication tool, not an art medium, as it hampers my work when … communication is not consistent. Perhaps the best "quick example" I can give is with the common names of organisms. Common names are regional, applied haphazardly, and often misused. Just because everyone calls members of the Coccinellidae "ladybugs" does not suddenly place that group of organisms in the Order Hemiptera, which is the group of "bugs", rather it remains a beetle (order Coleoptera), despite misuse by many people considered "good writers", or even "good scientists".
Fluency is not a measure of aesthetic quality or fluidity. Linguists often use "fluent" to describe speakers who learn a language with native ability and no syntactic, phonological, or semantic/pragmatic limitation beyond that which would be expected of their dialect. It's not about being smooth or melodious. Many stagnant writers are completely fluent. As I use the word. Other terms for this would be first-language or L1 speaker, or speakers with native competence and proficiency.
Defining good writing is not that important to me in discussing the issue. The argument is of limited interest to me generally. When linguists use examples from writers' works, it's usually in the interest of countering the argument that "masters of the language" won't use singular "their" or split an infinitive or put a preposition at the end of a sentence. It's a simple argument: If you think Shakespeare was a master of the English language, then shouldn't his example be worth considering? If you don't think he's that great, give me your favourite writers. You'll find that they break many of your favourite rules in their work. So who can be trusted to define the language if not the speakers?
Linguists know better than anyone that language is not a free-form art medium. It's a system. It's bound and constrained by real grammar. Not by an arbitrarily manufactured and promoted set of expectations. The premise of descriptivism is that languages are best studied when they are considered as they are, not as some would argue they should be. It's the difference between observation and imposition. Even if I have favored forms and aesthetic sensibilities, I must admit that language isn't defined by desire, no matter how well I can argue that it would benefit from this or that feature.
The issue of conventional labeling is a real concern in many situations. It's true that many of the labels used by laypeople don't correspond exactly to the labels used by specialists in various fields. That's a jargon and terminology issue, not really a grammatical one. When I say that use informs grammar, I'm not also saying that the use of one label necessarily controls the category to which that thing belongs. Categories can have fixed definitions, conventionalized by one group, regardless of the labels that are conventionalized by another group for items that might or might not fit in that category.
People who point and say "Look! A ladybug!" are in no way saying "Look! A member of the Order Hemiptera!" They're using a common word for the insect even tho an entomologist might not use that same word... anymore. But are they pointing at a ladybug? On this one I'm going with the majority rule. Yes. They are. Why is it a ladybug? Because that's what people call it. The common label doesn't need to find the approval of the scientific label. It doesn't even need to take it into account. In some circles a label might be discouraged. But being discouraged in one group does not make it wrong in all others. Come now. Is ladybug really bad grammar? Isn't it the clearest and most concise label the vast majority of the time? That's what establishing a standard of consistency gets us. Speak so they can understand you.
Appropriately this relates to the question of fluency and grammar and even English and language. As we saw, I was using fluent differently from the way my friend thought I was using it. And that definition was key to a part of my point. The purposefully
When they speak of Language they are not thinking of the same system that linguists consider. For peevologists, The English language is a Platonic ideal that exists even if nobody is careful enough to speak it. For linguists the English language is the system, varied and mutable, that must be observed honestly, even when a more efficient and unambiguous system can be imagined. Such a system is much more interesting to me when seen as a field with barely visible borders—at times distant; at times nearby—rather than a vault with sturdy cement walls. We know those vaults exist. And we understand that they are safe. We know that they are fixed. We call them dead and frozen languages.