Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's not personal. It's cause you're one of 'them'

A couple weeks ago I heard Henry Paulson comment on a "taks" ahead of us (or him or them...). In context it was clear that the word he used was one that would normally be pronounced tæsk. Was this a dialect difference? I assumed no because I hadn't heard it from him before and I haven't heard it from him since. So I figured it was just a mistake.

We move on from mistakes. And the peevologists? They don't always. They pick on typos and 'purposeful' spelling mistakes. But that's spelling -- not language. Peevologists really don't pick on actual language mistakes.

Why not? Why is it that complaints about sloppy language don't focus on actual mistakes? They focus on systems that have become regular and follow rules. Their complaints grow louder and more troubled in rough proportion to the regularity of the system that creates those forms.

There are those who will snicker and rattle when a speaker stumbles or stutters on a line. But such surface forms are rarely used as examples of the language deteriorating or of speakers getting lazy. Why? Those are precisely examples of the rules of language breaking down. That's when we see real evidence of what happens when a rule doesn't govern speech.

I suggest that explaining why such performance errors are ignored will help illuminate the nefarious premise of many judgements about usage.

  • Convention is necessary, but that those who adopt another convention are not less intelligent, less capable or less flexible.

  • These complaints are ultimately not about performance. They are about a system.

  • The fear that a language system will take over might not be based on a judgment about those who use it, but it promotes itself and seeks to replicate itself by promoting an eventual judgement through explicit rationalization.

  • In order to counter the judged system, an oppression of that system is planned and executed.

  • When you judge a system you judge the people who use that system.

  • When you seek to categorically subvert a convention you subvert the people who rely, even occasionally, on that convention.

  • This judgement further extends to judgment of ability to perform non-linguistic tasks.

  • Everybody makes mistakes so it's impossible to separate and stratify groups based on who makes a mistake.

  • Judgment that both seeks and relies on separation is the heart of bigotry.

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