Monday, December 29, 2008

I do not bite my thumb at you

I shouldn't be surprised that John McIntyre's response to my post on disenfranchised is largely interested in extending the spirit of goodwill.

Mr McIntyre has well-reasoned views of where prescriptions serve a purpose and when they should guide decisions about language. And by well-reasoned I of course mean that I largely agree with them. I read his blog daily and I see that he has more to teach than I do. This has been a refreshingly affable exchange. Cheers sir.

My views on language are often responsible for more discord than my views on politics or religion. Anytime I'm called a dangerous and irresponsible libertine I assume it's because of my radically tolerant views on language. Descriptivism is an oddly disintuited view: shattered by rulers on knuckles and stern red pens.

Just last week I mentioned to someone that I believe a common sense approach to language should lead to the argument that as negative concord is rarely confusing it's hardly an unclear, ineffective or structurally inferior form. It's the "additive" constructions that often get confusing, leading to over/undernegation.

'So,' I said, 'there's no reason to think, just based on non-standard forms, that a speaker is dumber or less adept at language.'

'Right. Sure,' he responded in honest agreement. Then he added 'But that's usually the reason they talk that way, right?'

Training and learning are so regularly linked with ideas about intelligence that the popular view of language as a taught system has replaced the linguistic view of language acquisition. This is one of the important factors in the view that language must adhere to a prescribed standard rather than a naturally acquired one.

Of course I'm convinced that if the linguistic view was understood accurately, few would disagree with it. But then isn't that why everyone holds all opinions dearly?


  1. I find that even people who are politically liberal and who claim tolerance for a wide measure of human variety can be surprisingly narrow-minded when it comes to questions of dialect and usage. One of my fellow editors recently called people who don't master SWE "lazy."

    This is not an issue that will ever go away, at least, not until people stop worrying about social status. As John McIntyre (him again!) has observed, "Language is an invaluable support in our efforts to identify people to look down on."

  2. I can't respond to this effectively until you watch Doubt.


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