Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

[P]
English Teachers are the Root of All Evil

By MmmmJoel in Op-Ed
Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 03:15:46 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

The first thing I learned in English composition was to come up with a catchy title. The content of your paper alone was never enough to attract an audience and instead I learned to exaggerate claims with little regard to their validity. Journalists must have always gotten the best grades. Look at these catchy titles:


Pope offers qualified praise of capitalism --Chicago Tribune, May 3
Pope assails capitalist evils --Chicago Sun-Times, May 3
Free market gets Pope's blessing --Washington Times, May 3
Pope warns against godless capitalism --Washington Post, May 3 ***

Unlike the newspapers, however, I am going to develop my claims and postulates to hopefully bring the reader to a better understanding of why I say that English teachers are the root of all evil. But before I continue on this suicide mission, I would like to rephrase my title and propose my thesis. My English teachers always said my thesis should come at the end of the first paragraph, but here it is anyway:

Teaching prescriptive grammar and proper English in schools and learning centers beyond what is necessary for understanding is damaging to society's racial, ethnic, and cultural relations and implants a superiority complex in the minds of the dominant class.
That sentence would not have made such a good title but it is a much more accurate depiction of my thoughts and ideas and it will be the focus for the rest of this essay. On that note, let's begin.
Teaching prescriptive grammar and proper English...
First, I had to make a distinction among different types of grammars. Prescriptive grammar is what many of us learned in early education. Rules like, "Never use ain't!" and "Don't use contractions in formal papers!" come to mind. Prescriptive grammar is what we learned as children but never understood why we learned it. We all eventually learned why it was important when we got our graded report cards. If you still didn't understand, then you may have learned why grammar was important when you began applying for jobs or for college. An essay on a college application with spelling errors and fragmented sentences was a guarantee for refusal.

Other forms of grammar exist as well. Linguists concentrate with mental grammar. They couldn't care less about prescriptive grammar and whether I used a contraction in this sentence. Mental grammar is the language by which you speak and are comfortable with. Everyone's mental grammar is unique. What I feel comfortable saying may irk your mouth. I can say, "I ain't goin' with you" without hesitation but I'd have a hard time imagining that expression being part of my grandmother's mental grammar. However, we are able to understand each other without a hitch. It's not part of my mental grammar to say, "I'm fixin' to go," but I'm able to understand someone "who" uses it and somebody "whom" uses it.

Proper English implies that there is a proper and correct form of English and other improper and incorrect forms of English. Labeling something proper is nothing more than a value judgment. Proper English has rules in the form of a prescriptive grammar by which we are supposed to abide by in English class. These rules often make words and expressions that we have in our mental grammar wrong and counterproductive. Today, proper and correct English is much like the English that white Americans grow up with and speak as opposed to other forms of English like black English (Ebonics), New York talk, and a West Virginian dialect. Recall that linguists do not discriminate between different mental grammars like Ebonics and proper English and it is only the prescriptive grammar rules that makes anything improper.

Teaching prescriptive grammar and proper English in schools and learning centers beyond what is necessary for understanding...

If I can understand you and you can understand me, then there isn't a problem. I'd suggest we still learn some fundamentals of reading and writing, such as what it means when something is enclosed in quotation marks. What would I be trying to imply by using scare quotes with "proper" English and why is that different from quoting my use of the word "proper?" On the other hand, it is not necessary for understand whether or not the question mark in the previous sentence should be before or after the quotation mark or if my use of contractions deems me any less intelligent or "proper."

English teachers may argue that deciding on a set of rules is the only way all English speakers would be able to communicate together but I feel people are smart enough to alter their speech if they want to communicate with a particular audience. Deciding on a set of rules, however, makes a letter from one Spanglish speaker to another improper and a conversation between the heads of two major businesses correct. Perhaps it would be less irritable if the set of rules were based on common speech and language practice but that's obviously not the case. Who besides racehorse-owners and grandmothers use the word "whom"?

Teaching prescriptive grammar and proper English in schools and learning centers beyond what is necessary for understanding is damaging to society's racial, ethnic, and cultural relations...
The value judgment that makes white English the proper English is condescending. In a country where old white guys control the disgustingly vast majority of upper-management business and government positions, it can be quite intimidating to have to change your own behavior to kiss their asses to get a job. Some language alteration has to take place, but business discrimination is much deeper. Ya gotta change your way of life. You rarely hear of white kids getting beat up and insulted for trying to act black, but it's a struggle for a young black kid to balance the ass kissing with his or her own upbringing. Do you think a West Virginian native carries all his or her linguistic idiosyncrasies into the typical upper-class business environment?

Certainly there are exceptions, but not many. The rest just try and fit in and attempt to be proper. Unfortunately for them, the ruling class businessmen give the deals to the best bottles of wine and the most effective golf tips. Ask some of the best salesmen (and few saleswomen) how they do it; it certainly isn't always just the product or service they represent. Wine & dine, or lose the deal.

I don't believe it's a mass conspiracy to keep anyone with a lisp out of a CEO position and there is a clear understanding why this oppression is commonplace in America. People bond to those like themselves. It's no great shocker or surprise. A huge percent of the population gets their job because people like them as a person besides how well their résumé stacks up against the competition. It's always a priority to keep employees happy with each other.

I can just envision something a little more universally appealing. Given the chance to work together in an environment where there is no proper language and proper culture can help a person's ego and comfort level tremendously. I don't think that enough managers realize how their homogenous work environments can make working for them so dreadful. That ultrageek with the thick Japanese accent could be one of your best friends if you would talk about what is underneath his inability to distinguish the `L' and `R' sounds instead of mocking him.

Teaching prescriptive grammar and proper English in schools and learning centers beyond what is necessary for understanding is damaging to society's racial, ethnic, and cultural relations and implants a superiority complex in the minds of the dominant class.
Why do some laugh at these people who can't figure out how to pronounce through, trough, thorough, though, tough, thought, and bough? Well, laughing at the overly complex pronunciation of English words is one thing, but try and sense a feeling of superiority next time. I challenge you all to try and find it within yourself. You might think a Korean girl is cute for trying so hard to fit in or you might think of the Kwik-E-Mart the next time you hear an Indian male. Someone speaking Spanglish is definitely most suited for cafeteria serving or cleaning your toilets. Why do these stereotypes stick? Because it makes others feel better about themselves.

They implant a sense of security and superiority in the minds of the proper English speakers. They know it will help them in that job application where an "obvious" spelling error and an improperly conjugated verb can mean the difference between getting the interview and sitting by the phone. This is assuming, of course, that the Ebonics speaker got into college using common expressions in his or her mental grammar and not dismissing their individuality to entice someone else's idea of what is correct. This is assuming, of course, that the Georgian child didn't bother to question and ask "Why?" after receiving his first failure in English class in the fourth grade.

*** Headlines borrowed from Peter McWilliams's excellent Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do. I apologize for not conforming to MLA bibliography standards. ;-)

Sponsors

Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure

Login

Related Links
o Also by MmmmJoel


Display: Sort:
English Teachers are the Root of All Evil | 166 comments (161 topical, 5 editorial, 1 hidden)
Interesting (4.40 / 5) (#1)
by xriso on Sat Feb 24, 2001 at 11:21:33 PM EST

Yes, we all know (or we should) that English is the most horrible language that exists. There are countless exceptions in every part of it. And yes, there is a superiority complex associated with the norm, as with any other situation, anywhere. Conformity is the common solution. If you make yourself exactly like somebody else, they can't nitpick your style without nitpicking their own. Even if we get rid of current biases, it doesn't remove the root cause. Picking on the wierd people is human, even animal, nature. You can even have the exact same stereotypes coming right back.

And remember: Why do people get English degrees? So they can teach English, of course. :-) I classify the current English courses as "tradition".
--
*** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)

Why I disagree (4.37 / 8) (#2)
by ZanThrax on Sat Feb 24, 2001 at 11:23:17 PM EST

First off, I want to dispute some of your reasons for your conclusion. The West Virginian who moves to Wall Street is not changing his manner of speech to proper english, he is conforming to the local dialect, and someone from Manhattan who moves to West Virginia will conform to that local dialect. That's what happens when humans move from one community to another. Conforming isn't always about being downtrodden by the majority. Often, comforming is simply about making one's life easier, and possibly happier. Many people make the effort to maintain their accents for decades after moving to another part of the english-speaking world, and that's fine. (I will admit that stereotypes about the sort of people who have a specific accent or dialect affect the decision, but I feel that my point is still valid.)

Stereotypes such as you've pointed out will not change if we change or remove the definition of proper english. People don't think of the hispanic as janitor material, or the indian as convienience store clerks because of the way they talk. The stereotype exists independantly, and the accented english is one of the ways that people identify which cultural stereotype to place the person in.

In the end though, I disagree with your thesis not because I disagree with some of your supporting points, but because I believe that a standard form of english must exist to maintain compatability of regional dialects. If we give up on teaching proper english in favour of simply ensuring a minimal level of communicability, then within a generation or two, we will no longer be able to communicate with english speakers outside our immediate region. Even more likely than the fracturing of the language into regional dialects though, is the possible rise of incompatable socio-economic dialects. The people raised in Manhattan would be completely unable to talk to those raised in Harlem, simply because no one ever bothered to teach either group about proper english.

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.

Hmmm (4.00 / 1) (#4)
by fsh on Sat Feb 24, 2001 at 11:31:37 PM EST

I must disagree with your disagreement. While I agree that if these hypothetical children who live in a vacuum were never exposed to any dialect other than their own, this language fragmentation is arguably inevitable. With the advent of TV, however, there is a strong incentive to stay close to the norm. The problem with English classes is that they seem to have no mechanism to evolve with the language. The English prescriptive grammar taught today is very similar to the English prescriptive grammar taught several centuries ago, while the mental grammar (not to mention the overall vocabulary) has changed considerably.
-fsh
[ Parent ]
Not just english (4.50 / 2) (#43)
by aphrael on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 05:33:55 AM EST

The problem with English classes is that they seem to have no mechanism to evolve with the language.

I assume you are speaking of middle school and high school English classes? Here's a counterpoint: isn't that true of *all* middle- and high-school level courses? Science evolves a little bit, but not much (witness the recent debates in Kansas over evolution) --- my high school had science books which were 20+ years old. Other classes evolve little, if at all.

In a way, this is natural --- most of the people teaching the classes in high schools learned the material 20-30 years ago and are not active in the research which is driving the way that perceptions of the material change among professionals in that field; the knowledge passed on in the public secondary schools is basically the crumbs from yesterday's table.

[ Parent ]

And? (none / 0) (#57)
by CyberQuog on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 12:46:29 PM EST

isn't that true of *all* middle- and high-school level courses?

But does this make it right? A lot has happened in the fields in the last 20 years; every class curriculum should be upgraded. Just because it is the norm doesn't make it right.


-...-
[ Parent ]
I wasn't saying (none / 0) (#99)
by aphrael on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 06:34:43 PM EST

that it's *right* ... just that (a) that's the way it is; and (b) railing against, or fixing, english, without doing something about the other subjects, isn't solving the problem.

[ Parent ]
evolution in grade school (4.00 / 1) (#70)
by fsh on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 02:56:24 PM EST

Well, I was thinking a slightly longer time scale. Read letters written in the colonial period and you'll see that the English grammar taught then is very similar to the English grammar taught today. The same is certainly *not* true of science. While some science may be a little old, they're still teaching 20th century science in grade school. -fsh
-fsh
[ Parent ]
Not just english (4.00 / 1) (#44)
by aphrael on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 05:33:55 AM EST

The problem with English classes is that they seem to have no mechanism to evolve with the language.

I assume you are speaking of middle school and high school English classes? Here's a counterpoint: isn't that true of *all* middle- and high-school level courses? Science evolves a little bit, but not much (witness the recent debates in Kansas over evolution) --- my high school had science books which were 20+ years old. Other classes evolve little, if at all.

In a way, this is natural --- most of the people teaching the classes in high schools learned the material 20-30 years ago and are not active in the research which is driving the way that perceptions of the material change among professionals in that field; the knowledge passed on in the public secondary schools is basically the crumbs from yesterday's table.

[ Parent ]

I disagree with part of your (2.00 / 1) (#47)
by ZanThrax on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 07:00:13 AM EST

disagreement of my disagreement... I don't think that the tv english would have as great an effect as you propose, or newscasts would have long ago mad people from Atlanta, New Jersey, and Boston all sound like the midwesterners and Canadians that sit behind newsdesks throughout north america. As far as the english being taught today being the same as the grammer taught several centuries ago, I'll accept that little has changed from a few decades ago, but a few centuries ago was Shakespearean english, and a few before that was middle english, and before that olde english, each of which is considerably different from modern english. The accepted form of the language evolves slowly to be sure, but there is change, even over the course of a students career. I remember some of the things that I was told not to do in 8th grade were considered acceptable practice when I was in 12th and post-secondary.

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

local newscasts (4.00 / 1) (#69)
by fsh on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 02:52:21 PM EST

All of the local stations here in NC have anchors with southern accents. Perhaps not the thick drawl of the deep south, but quite noticably southern.

When I said a few centuries, I actually meant 2. Letters from the colonial english period are remarkably similar to formal writing today.

The prescriptive grammar lesson I was most refering to is the preposition argument, "Never end a sentence with a preposition". The preposition argument was taken directly from Latin, because it's pretty much impossible to end a sentence with a preposition in Latin (possible, but ooh its hard to translate that way). This rule was applied to English simply because the church thought Latin was a better language than English (here's the language bigotry again). The German root languages never had problems with ending prepositions.

Then again, bringing up Shakespeare and Chaucer brings up a good example. If one can understand Shakespeare, why should one have a problem understanding different English dialects? In fact, I've heard that many Romance language users can piece together what's being said in another related Romance language. Not quickly, and not very accurately, but at least a little.

Then there's the assumption that corporate white collar america is the place to be, and that any company that wants to deal with us, must speak our English. I simply don't see why this argument isn't bigoted toward English? Why can't we learn their language to deal with them? Is it because we're superior? Is it some form of power and submission argument? It seems that we're simply unwilling to learn these laguages because we can't see them as important.

-fsh
-fsh
[ Parent ]

Your Thesis, Plus My Antithesis (4.09 / 11) (#5)
by the Epopt on Sat Feb 24, 2001 at 11:38:23 PM EST

You are conflating two separate issues: (1) mocking "[t]hat ultrageek with the thick Japanese accent" and(2) "prescriptive grammar and proper English."

I have no problem with speech impediments either physical (e.g., a stammer or a lisp) or linguistic (e.g., an Oriental's difficulty to distinguish R and L or an Arab's difficulty to distinguish B and P). That is a challenge to deal with, not the person's fault.

I have a problem with people who have the fault of unwillingness to take the trouble to learn to write correct English. That problem is quite straight-forward: someone who can't be bothered to use the lingua franca is presumably unwilling to take other troubles.

I have enough demands on my attention that I filter my "inputs" heavily -- I surf Slashdot at +3, for example. Thus, I am not going to verify the presumption about an illiterate speaker or writer -- I'm simply not going to listen to him, read his post, or hire him. I can probably figure out what someone means even though he is too ignorant or lazy to distinguish between "lose" and "loose" or "cite," "site," and "sight," -- but I'm not going to. I'm going to conclude that he is ignorant and filter him out.

As will a great many decision-makers. Therein, just in case you've missed it, lies the major distinction. Yes, I am unwilling to take trouble, just like the poor speaker I am complaining about. The difference is this: he is asking me to do something for him -- listen to him, read his post, hire him. I am asking something of him in exchange for what he is asking of me. He is the petitioner; on him falls the burden of clear communication.
--  
Most people who need to be shot need to be shot soon and a lot.
Very few people need to be shot later or just a little.

K5_Arguing_HOWTO

Exactly... (3.00 / 1) (#14)
by _Quinn on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 12:36:24 AM EST

   It is relatively easy to tell the level of someone's education and/or raw ability by how they speak and write. (Assuming they're trying, that is.) Is this a consequence of linguistic elitism -- `better' schools teach `better' English? Does more schooling more thoroughly indoctrinate the learner in `proper' English? Or are speaking and writing well skills which are honored in higher education? How much of learning `proper' English is cultural conformity, and how much does clarity depend on stringent adherence to commonly-known rules?

   (Oddly enough, academic papers in many disciplines are horribly written, but the disciplines don't seem to be able to do anything about it.) Another interesting perspective is jargon -- I could probably give a half-hour speech off the cuff that no one outside of my field could understand. Is the obscurity of my speech indicative? Jargon is slightly different -- it deals with a specific limited-enrollment society, and is unconcerned with communicating with outsiders, or outside its own particular realm. (Try to talk about, say, brushing your teeth, without using any words not found in the New Hacker Dictionary (words or definitions).)

   I suppose that's the key thing. AFAIK, Black English is not the language of white-collar business; AFAIK, New Yorkers have funny accents, but don't have a distinct vocabulary and grammar all their own. If you want to communicate in a particular field -- e.g. business -- you need to learn how people talk (write) there.

-_Quinn
Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
[ Parent ]
judging people from the way they speak (5.00 / 3) (#21)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 02:19:54 AM EST

It is relatively easy to tell the level of someone's education and/or raw ability by how they speak and write.

"Raw ability" is too vague for me to even consider making a judgment as to what you meant here (but it does leave a very bad taste in my mouth). "Education", understood strictly, yes-- if you go to a lot of the better educational institutions, you have to be able to speak and write in a certain way to get through.

But intelligence, overall knowledge, reliability, motivation, and a whole class of other things can't be told from the way a person speaks. Not at all.

--em
[ Parent ]

Sure they can (1.00 / 1) (#79)
by physicsgod on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 04:05:22 PM EST

If I'm in charge of hiring at a large corporation and someone walks in and proceeds to talk to me in a non-standard structure I am perfectly justified in assuming the person is lacking in intelligence, general knowledge, and/or motivation.

If they were intelligent they would be able to figure that a hiring interview is a good place to use standard english.

If they had general knowledge they would know standard english and be able to use it.

If they were motivated they would use standard english.

None of these assumptions would be valid if I were talking to someone on the street, but assumptions are always subject to the situation.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]
Sure they can (1.00 / 1) (#80)
by physicsgod on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 04:06:10 PM EST

If I'm in charge of hiring at a large corporation and someone walks in and proceeds to talk to me in a non-standard structure I am perfectly justified in assuming the person is lacking in intelligence, general knowledge, and/or motivation.

If they were intelligent they would be able to figure that a hiring interview is a good place to use standard english.

If they had general knowledge they would know standard english and be able to use it.

If they were motivated they would use standard english.

None of these assumptions would be valid if I were talking to someone on the street, but assumptions are always subject to the situation.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]
Sure they can (1.00 / 1) (#81)
by physicsgod on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 04:06:13 PM EST

If I'm in charge of hiring at a large corporation and someone walks in and proceeds to talk to me in a non-standard structure I am perfectly justified in assuming the person is lacking in intelligence, general knowledge, and/or motivation.

If they were intelligent they would be able to figure that a hiring interview is a good place to use standard english.

If they had general knowledge they would know standard english and be able to use it.

If they were motivated they would use standard english.

None of these assumptions would be valid if I were talking to someone on the street, but assumptions are always subject to the situation.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]
Sure they can (none / 0) (#82)
by physicsgod on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 04:07:09 PM EST

If I'm in charge of hiring at a large corporation and someone walks in and proceeds to talk to me in a non-standard structure I am perfectly justified in assuming the person is lacking in intelligence, general knowledge, and/or motivation.

If they were intelligent they would be able to figure that a hiring interview is a good place to use standard english.

If they had general knowledge they would know standard english and be able to use it.

If they were motivated they would use standard english.

None of these assumptions would be valid if I were talking to someone on the street, but assumptions are always subject to the situation.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]
Plus the conjoiner (none / 0) (#24)
by MmmmJoel on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 02:22:13 AM EST

I have no problem with speech impediments either physical (e.g., a stammer or a lisp) or linguistic (e.g., an Oriental's difficulty to distinguish R and L or an Arab's difficulty to distinguish B and P). That is a challenge to deal with, not the person's fault.
Great! We agree.
I have a problem with people who have the fault of unwillingness to take the trouble to learn to write correct English. That problem is quite straight-forward: someone who can't be bothered to use the lingua franca is presumably unwilling to take other troubles.
And the example you use to demonstrate this:
I'm simply not going to listen to him, read his post, or hire him. I can probably figure out what someone means even though he is too ignorant or lazy to distinguish between "lose" and "loose" or "cite," "site," and "sight,"
You bring up a good point in that I don't mention anything about effort. The difference between cite, site, and sight could very well indicate laziness and may be good reason to skip over. But what I'm more concerned about, is not spelling but the use of "ain't", "y'all", "We be chillin'", "We fixin' to go", and other idiosynchrasies that are part of our everyday speech but are for some reason disallowed by the rules of proper English. Is their use grounds for not hiring them or skipping over their Slashdot comment? If so, that's my point and that's where I'd disagree.

[ Parent ]
Fixing to go (none / 0) (#131)
by leviathan on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 01:30:00 PM EST

Purely out of curiosity, and I don't think it dents your argument at all, but...

What does "Fixing to go" mean?

--
I wish everyone was peaceful. Then I could take over the planet with a butter knife.
- Dogbert
[ Parent ]

Your answer (none / 0) (#148)
by MmmmJoel on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 11:01:17 PM EST

Taking out of context, like I did, makes it much more cryptic than it actually is. If you were to hear it in speech, it's meaning is much clearer. I could say, for example:

"Me & Betty are fixing to go to the store. Would you like to come?"

It can be swapped with "preparing" or "getting ready" in this sentence. I hear this expression anytime I'm in the Appalachian area of the US of A.

[ Parent ]
There is rules, and there is *rules*. (4.00 / 1) (#42)
by aphrael on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 05:30:06 AM EST

you have a valid point, but consider the opposite: a lot of the rules of prescriptive grammar are nitpicky, and many of them fail to reflect the way people actually speak. People do split infinitives, dangle prepositions, and use sentence fragments in everyday speech; yet these are considered bad, largely because some academic said so. All three linguistic idiosyncracies can be used effectively without impeding meaning; indeed, avoiding ending a sentence on a preposition frequently makes the sentence *less* clear.

Moreover ... what's really at issue is whether or not the way sentences are constructed out of words is clear, and whether the image conjured by the flow of the words is communicative. In general, for someone who is educated, the injection of personal idiosyncracies of vocabulary or grammar makes the flow more natural, and therefore makes communication easier --- something which is forced and artificial is less easy to understand, especially if it was intended to be poetry. :)

[ Parent ]

Why Should We Nitpick? (none / 0) (#64)
by matthead on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 01:52:15 PM EST

Nitpicking is not evil. Yes, people do split infinitives, dangle prepositions, and use sentence fragments. Sometimes, when they do, I have to think for several seconds, or ask them to repeat what they said using different words, because I do not understand what they have said.

These things (split infinitives, etc.) are not bad just because some academic said so. They hinder clear communication.


--
- Matt
I'm at (0.3, -2.5). Where are you?
[ Parent ]
Split infinitives hinder communication? (none / 0) (#88)
by ajf on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 05:17:12 PM EST

Can you give an example? I can't think of a non-contrived way to split an infinitive to in any way hinder communication.

I agree with aphrael - sometimes sentences are harder to read when the writer goes out of their way to move the preposition away from the end - but the title of his message hurt my brain. :-)



"I have no idea if it is true or not, but given what you read on the Web, it seems to be a valid concern." -jjayson
[ Parent ]
That is something up with which I will not put. (none / 0) (#108)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 11:26:06 PM EST

I agree with aphrael - sometimes sentences are harder to read when the writer goes out of their way to move the preposition away from the end

The most famous example being Churchill's "A dangling preposition is something up with which I will not put". Which is unacceptable for nearly all English speakers-- this usage of "put up" is, at one level of analysis, a unit in itself (its meaning is not formed from the meanings of "put" and "up"), and the mental grammar of an English speaker won't tolerate it's being broken up (or should that be "... won't tolerate that up it gets broken"? hehehe)

but the title of his message hurt my brain. :-)

I think it sounds better if you contract the "is": There's rules, and there's *rules*. It's still nonstandard, but I think you will find it less painful that way ;)

Funnily enough, in Spanish, there's the opposite prescriptive rule-- while English grammar books insist that in a "There is/are ..." sentence, the verb must agree with the object, but many speakers will naturally use the singular (me included), Spanish grammar books insist that the verb be singular no matter the number of the object, contrary to what many people do naturally (again, me included). Thus, "que haya muchas personas" ("that be.SG many persons") is "proper" Spanish, but people say "que hayan muchas personas" (same thing, with "haber" in plural). This shows how arbitrary this kind of rule is in practice.

--em
[ Parent ]

Blah (3.55 / 9) (#6)
by Inoshiro on Sat Feb 24, 2001 at 11:39:50 PM EST

Correct punctuation dispells ambiguity. Using commas in direct address, properly delineated lists, etc, make for easier reading comprehension -- no re-reading to get the 'verbal meaning' of something.



--
[ イノシロ ]
Exactly (2.00 / 2) (#27)
by MmmmJoel on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 02:38:44 AM EST

And using capital letters at the beginning of sentences allows people to easily scan for the beginnings and ends of statements. These grammar rules I'm not opposed to. The rules I am opposed to are the ones that force you to talk a certain way. I'm opposed to the rules that state what kind of vocabulary I must use and what idiosyncrasies of mine are "wrong."

[ Parent ]
Except (none / 0) (#159)
by eofpi on Wed Feb 28, 2001 at 07:31:19 PM EST

... in German. German requires every noun to be capitalized, making scanning for capital letters as sentence definers futile in that language. However, I do agree with your statement that restrictive grammar rules are of little good use outside of academics.

[ Parent ]
Excellent (2.14 / 7) (#7)
by fsh on Sat Feb 24, 2001 at 11:50:00 PM EST

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. Since I agree with it, I must mod it up. :) Seriously though, even if the bare facts show that the ruling class speaks one particular dialect, this doesn't mean that it's the proper dialect, and that all other dialects are wrong. Unfortunately, that's the way it's taught in my elementary school. I've never understood why most Americans seem to think our language is so integral to our culture. So what if our language diverges and we end up speaking several languages in our nation? We'll be more like the other advanced nations in the world. The ossification of the language goes hand in hand with the ossification of the culture.

Of course the cynical way to look at it is by a benefit analysis. In the long run, who benefits most from forcing one dialect to be the 'official' dialect? The natural speakers of that dialect, obviously.

I sum up with a foreign friend's favorite joke:

What do you call a person who knows two languages?
A: Bilingual
What do you call a person who knows many languages?
A: Multilingual
Then what do you call a person who knows only one language?
A: American

-fsh
-fsh

True. :) (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by _Quinn on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 12:29:18 AM EST

   See the post by `the Epopt,' and you'll understand why a benefit analysis isn't cynical. The elite don't (feel they) benefit from spending (wasting) time learning or understanding anything other than the English they know, so it's in the non-elites' interest to learn it. The joke is funny because it's true, but look at what it says about Americans: they're the elite, since they don't (have/want to) learn anyone else's language.

-_Quinn
Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
[ Parent ]
Learning English (3.00 / 1) (#28)
by traphicone on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 02:40:33 AM EST

What makes English so cool that everyone else feels they have to learn it? I wish I could say it was based on the merits of the language itself, but it's not, of course. You may have noticed that America is somewhat central to the global political and economic scene. Nations have to speak English to conduct their business. I'm not saying this is the way things should be, but it's the way things are.

I did read once that dealings of arbitration and law in China were very often conducted in English, just because the language is so much better suited to formality and technicality than Chinese. I suppose in this sense English is a good choice for the world of politics and economics. Still, it'd be nice to think that Americans would be interested enough in other cultures to take some time to learn another tongue.

I've done my part. I speak German. No, I don't particularly feel like demonstrating, however.... I'm still an American. ;].

"Generally it's a bad idea to try to correct someone's worldview if you want to remain on good terms with them, no matter how skewed it may be." --Delirium
[ Parent ]

It's not just elitism (4.00 / 1) (#41)
by aphrael on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 05:25:00 AM EST

While i've done my fair share of bashing american monolingualism, i nonetheless have to point out that it's not just because Americans are 'the elite' that they don't learn foreign languages.

If you ignore people living near the border, most people in the US have no use for a foreign language; the country is immense, and the exposure to speakers of foreign languages is limited. It's much the same for Russia and China, where the percentage of people who speak anything other than their native tongue is much lower than it is in western Europe.

Language acquisition requires an investment of time --- and it's a skill which a lot of people either don't have or think they don't have. From a cost-benefit analysis point of view, unless (a) it comes easy to you, or (b) you enjoy it, there's very little reason for the average American in a non-border state to invest the time.

[ Parent ]

Actually... (1.66 / 3) (#23)
by traphicone on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 02:21:59 AM EST

A person who knows only one language is called a monoglot. The person can be called many other things, but I really think that particular word is cool, and I'll take any chance I can get to use it. :D.

"Generally it's a bad idea to try to correct someone's worldview if you want to remain on good terms with them, no matter how skewed it may be." --Delirium
[ Parent ]
More language myths (3.00 / 4) (#32)
by jasonab on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 03:12:42 AM EST

So what if our language diverges and we end up speaking several languages in our nation? We'll be more like the other advanced nations in the world.
And that similarity would be our downfall. The US is a great economic engine precisely because there are few barriers to trade, either political or cultural. The fact that 250 million people all speak the same language is an amazing economic plus for us!
The ossification of the language goes hand in hand with the ossification of the culture.
But English is the most dynamic language in the world! Look at something like French or German, where the native speakers are afraid of their language becoming more like English. You'll never hear an English speaker bemoaning foreign words, since all of our words are already foreign! Every time someone in hte US learns English along with his native tongue, he brings new words in to diversify our common tongue.
I sum up with a foreign friend's favorite joke:
What do you call a person who knows two languages?
A: Bilingual
What do you call a person who knows many languages?
A: Multilingual
Then what do you call a person who knows only one language?
A: American </pre>
Ah, yes, the old saw. Except that it doesn't prove that Americans are stupid, just that we don't need to know another language! How many people learn Spanish/French/Russian/Italian in high school, then never use it again? Most! Why? Because we don't need it, and never get a chance to use it! Unless you can fly to Europe every year or more, you won't get enough practice (Spanish being a minor exception to this). It's not our fault Europe can barely agree on money, let alone language.

--
America is a great country. One of the freest in the world. -- greenrd
[ Parent ]
Re: Excellent (none / 0) (#52)
by Gorgonzola on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 08:58:10 AM EST

You forgot to mention that the second group which benefits most from forcing one dialect to be the official one are us poor foreigners. It is pretty annoying to cope with the discrepancies between American and English, I would prefer not to get another bunch of distinctions. Reading a text with the word 'aluminum' in it always makes me reread the phrase. And it always makes me wonder why it is so bloody difficult to write 'aluminium' instead.
--
A page a day keeps ignorance of our cultural past away, or you can do your bit for collaborative media even if you haven't anything new or insightful to say.

[ Parent ]
Excellent article, but... (3.66 / 9) (#8)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sat Feb 24, 2001 at 11:55:32 PM EST

Excellent article.

Linguists concentrate with mental grammar.

Minor gripe here-- the opposition is typically prescriptive vs. descriptive grammar; of course, here grammar is not being talked about as "mental", something that resides in your mind (which is a controversial idea), but as the methodology of describing language structure and use as it actually occurs, without bringing preconceptions and value judgements about how it should be into you analysis.

English teachers may argue that deciding on a set of rules is the only way all English speakers would be able to communicate together but I feel people are smart enough to alter their speech if they want to communicate with a particular audience.

I would argue that, while that may be reasonable for spontaneous speech, you can't really count on it happening at all for writing.

Writing and formal speech are very different activities from casual speech. This is why, IMHO, prescriptive grammar is most needed-- otherwise, people will approach the medium incorrectly.

But a central feature of writing is that the audience is potentially much wider, and that the amount of feedback is minimum; right now, I am writing in my computer, alone in my room, and I can't see your face for your reactions, I can't be interrupted if I write something that won't be understood, etc. Thus, it is much more difficult for me to predict my audience and to know precisely how to adapt my language to it.

Also, there are many differences between the way they speak and that of others which most people just never notice, and pose all sorts of potential problems.

Thus, codifying a standard for language is a sensible thing to do. The problem is that, as you point out, this standard is pretty much always based on the language of a privileged subgroup.

Perhaps it would be less irritable if the set of rules were based on common speech and language practice but that's obviously not the case.

I'd say that a large part of the problem is that there are no institutions with wide membership who get to decide on rules for English, unlike other international languages-- and thus a lot of the prescriptive rules for English tend to be quite irrational. There is nothing illogical about, e.g., negative concord ("double negation"), extraction from prepositional objects ("ending sentence with prepositions"), and a good many things that English prescriptive rules attack. The rationale given for many other prescriptive rules is also typically absolutely absurd; e.g. "to avoid confusion/ambiguity" is typically quite a stupid rationale, since people are exceedingly good at dealing with ambiguity, and typically the condemned usage causes no more confusion than any other.

The Spanish language academies tend to be reasonably good at this-- during the 20th century, Spanish has actually eliminated many orthographic rules. Though a standard Spanish is still much less codified than French or English...

I think I still have a problem. You never say this, but it seems as though you are putting the blame for the problems you mention on the educational institutions of USia. However, while the educational insitution may contribute to this, I think the problem of high and low varieties of speech goes far beyond this. It has to do with the fact that complex societies are divided into socioeconomic and ethnic groups, and that some of those groups constitute the "mainstream" by whose standard everybody else suffers to be judged.

--em

Even more nitpicky linguistics jargon (none / 0) (#33)
by Greyjack on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 03:20:47 AM EST

Linguists concentrate with mental grammar.

Minor gripe here-- the opposition is typically prescriptive vs. descriptive grammar...

Actually, what he's describing sounds more like an ideolect to me--namely, one's personal lexicon of known words and the rules used to form 'em into coherent sentences and the like.

Your explanation of a descriptive grammar looks pretty spot on, though :)

--
Here is my philosophy: Everything changes (the word "everything" has just changed as the word "change" has: it now means "no change") --Ron Padgett


[ Parent ]
terminology (4.00 / 1) (#37)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 04:40:11 AM EST

Actually, what he's describing sounds more like an ideolect to me--namely, one's personal lexicon of known words and the rules used to form 'em into coherent sentences and the like.

I take it you mean "idiolect".

Idiolect is the idiosyncratic aspect of a speaker's command of her language. The word is used to specially focus on linguistic differences at an individual level, and contrasts with "sociolect" (differences in speech in one linguistic community that correlate with social factors), "geolect" (linguistic differences correlative to geography), and the more general "dialect". "Dialect" is also frequently qualified to mean some of these (social dialect, geographic dialect, historical dialect, etc.)

Thus, when a linguist says "idiolect", typically she refers to a bunch of idiosyncratic features of a particular speaker which vary even among those speakers of the same background; "idiolect" is not really about your individual knowledge of language, but the ways in which it differs from speakers of the same dialect as you. This is not what the author of the article is talking about-- he's talking about social and geographical dialects, that is, systematic differences between the language of persons from different social and geographic backgounds. Idiolect is thus not the right term here. (An example of idiolectal variation is the term "ice plant", a kind of plant used as turf highways edges in California. Some people can say "a ice plant", "3 ice plants" and so on, and some speakers can't-- they say "some ice plant", "a bunch of ice plant", etc. The difference doesn't pattern with social group or anything else.

I think the word you are looking for is "competence", which denotes the knowledge that allows you to create and understand your language.

--em
[ Parent ]

Eggplants. (none / 0) (#40)
by aphrael on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 05:21:07 AM EST

they say "some ice plant", "a bunch of ice plant", etc

I'm trying to wrap my mind around this. I bet that people who say "a bunch of ice plant" would not say "a bunch of eggplant", although they seem to be equivalent. I wonder if that's because eggplant isn't commonly found in the wild, or if it's a side effect of the fact that one is a compond word written as two words, and the other is written as one?

Also, FWIW, ice plant grows naturally on the cliffs, which is why it is used for highway landscaping. :)

[ Parent ]

ice plant(s) (none / 0) (#46)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 06:00:03 AM EST

I bet that people who say "a bunch of ice plant" would not say "a bunch of eggplant", although they seem to be equivalent. I wonder if that's because eggplant isn't commonly found in the wild, or if it's a side effect of the fact that one is a compond word written as two words, and the other is written as one?

Right off the bat I can tell you that the way the word is written is unlikely to be a factor.

For the whole analysis of this, I really can't reproduce it right now-- I was told in detail all of the different factor that may determine whether a plant name is mass or count (the distinction I'm making here), but it is very complicated. Suffice to say that there is a list of apparently unconscious rules that speakers seem to use to determine this, but that sometimes these conflict, and there are exceptions anyway. How the conflicts are resolved may vary from speaker to speaker. Also, the first time you hear a word used is critical: whether a person first hears "ice plant" in "there's a bunch of ice plants there" or "there's a bunch of ice plant there" may decide how they use it for the rest of their life-- thus, which path a speaker goes down for the rest of their lives may be random, depending on who they first hear "ice plant" from...

--em
[ Parent ]

I disagree, but it's an interesting argument (3.22 / 9) (#9)
by klamath on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 12:14:20 AM EST

Good story, BTW.

Proper English implies that there is a proper and correct form of English and other improper and incorrect forms of English. Labeling something proper is nothing more than a value judgment.
First off, there is nothing wrong with value judgements. School (and education) is all about true v. false, good v. bad, and right v. wrong.

You seem to think that there are no benefits of using "Proper English" beyond the level required for two people to understand each other. But language conveys far more than just ideas or assertions. The language you use has an enormous impact on how convincing your argument is, how authoritive or reliable you appear, and how accurately your ideas are conveyed. Teaching "Proper English" teaches people to present their arguments with a certain tone, use a certain vocabulary, and use certain grammatical constructs. At my school, the mark is for "Style and Grammar" -- and the style part is very important. In the same way that a scientific journal article that was handwritten in crayon on a dirty sheet of paper and phrased in Ebonics would be poorly received, so would an essay written with poor style and grammar. I don't really see a problem with this.

Today, proper and correct English is much like the English that white Americans grow up with and speak as opposed to other forms of English like black English (Ebonics), New York talk, and a West Virginian dialect.
Slang (such as those dialects you mentioned) rarely encourages good grammar or style. Also, the reason that "Proper English" is similar to the dialect spoken by white Americans is probably because "Proper English" is taught in schools, and most white Americans have more education than other racial minorities. A higher premium is also placed on good education and intelligence in the white community than in the communities of racial minorities. You haven't really demonstrated how "Proper English" is an example of class oppression.
In a country where old white guys control the disgustingly vast majority of upper-management business and government positions, it can be quite intimidating to have to change your own behavior to kiss their asses to get a job.
Intimidating or not, employers often look for evidence of education when looking for employees. Speaking in "Proper English" is evidence of your ability to express yourself clearly, your ability to adapt your style of language to your circumstances, and your education.
Given the chance to work together in an environment where there is no proper language and proper culture can help a person's ego and comfort level tremendously.
How did you reach this conclusion?
Well, laughing at the overly complex pronunciation of English words is one thing, but try and sense a feeling of superiority next time.
There is nothing wrong with feeling a sense of superiority. In this context, speaking "Proper English" is a skill. If person X has that skill and person Y does not, person Y is at a disadvantage. What's the big deal? If I were applying for a job in India, I would certainly be at a disadvantage.
Why do these stereotypes stick? Because it makes others feel better about themselves.
I doubt that. As I've mentioned, "Proper English" is not arbitrary -- it allows you to communicate with a certain audience more effectively. Most of the people in successful positions possess this skill -- so if someone does not possess it, one can infer that they are not as likely to be successful.

You seem to miss the whole point. (5.00 / 2) (#19)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 01:59:08 AM EST

You seem to think that there are no benefits of using "Proper English" beyond the level required for two people to understand each other. But language conveys far more than just ideas or assertions. The language you use has an enormous impact on how convincing your argument is, how authoritive or reliable you appear, and how accurately your ideas are conveyed.

But his whole point is not that this is false, but that this is true because of linguistic chauvinism!

Anyway, I think I might have issues with some of your statements here. I think are not expressed precisely enough, and I can't be sure exactly what you mean, so help me out:

  • "But language conveys far more than just ideas or assertions.": What exactly do you mean here? What is your definition of "convey"? How is this "conveyance" achieved? That is, under which social conditions does a language variety "convey" negative things about its user, and could the conditions be such that the exact same variety didn't convey any such negative things?
  • "The language you use has an enormous impact on how convincing your argument is": do you mean "how convincing others perceive you to be"? A valid argument is a valid argument on logical grounds, be it in Chinese or Hixkaryana.

    You use the word "appear" in the following clause, so I can cut you some slack if you meant that.

  • "how authoritive or reliable you appear": But this is precisely what the article is attacking! Language variety is not a indicator of individual reliability at all.
  • "and how accurately your ideas are conveyed": This is again very imprecise. How does your language impact the accuracy with which you can convey your ideas? Is it because some language varieties are inherently less adequate (hint: I'm a linguist, don't say "yes" to this one), or because people are predisposed not to listen attentively to some people because of the way they speak?
Slang (such as those dialects you mentioned) rarely encourages good grammar or style.

"Slang" is a type of vocabulary, not a dialect. Equating the two is a category error. Dialects have slang; dialects are not slang.

And even if we forgive that imprecision, the statement is trivial. Of course nonstandard dialects don't "encourage" "goos grammar or style". They are nonstandard, to start with!

Also, the reason that "Proper English" is similar to the dialect spoken by white Americans is probably because "Proper English" is taught in schools, and most white Americans have more education than other racial minorities.

This is quite possibly demonstrably false, and in any case, is putting the cart before the horse. There is no logically prior "Proper English" that whites learn better than blacks because they have a better educational level; "Proper English" is defined by the speech of educated white males! This concept of "proper" language can be observed in society after society-- the speech of the privileged is held to be the standard, and the speech of other classes is looked down upon.

The concept of a national standard dialect is a relatively recent one, originating with the european nation-states. All these states were plurilingual, and the standard language or dialect started out as just one more variety. But as the power of the centralized state grows, the prestige of the standard language also grows, to the detriment of other varieties.

Thus "Proper English" is in no way some sort of logically prior superior language. It is the lucky one among a brood-- one variety of English among a historically attested set, whose speakers became the dominant players in their society.

A higher premium is also placed on good education and intelligence in the white community than in the communities of racial minorities.

This is a potentially racist statement.

You haven't really demonstrated how "Proper English" is an example of class oppression.

Yes, he has. As I say above, there is no logically prior notion of what is "Proper English"; "Proper English" results from a class distinction.

As I've mentioned, "Proper English" is not arbitrary -- it allows you to communicate with a certain audience more effectively.

That "Proper English" has the precise set of linguistic features that it happens to have, and not many other existent in other varieties, is quite arbitrary. The fact that this variety is the dominant one is also arbitrary-- it has to do with the economic position of the people who speak it, not because of any feature of the variety in and of its own. There is also a good degree of arbitrariety that the audience in question looks down on other varieties.

--em
[ Parent ]

Quick Question (none / 0) (#93)
by fsh on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 06:06:37 PM EST

Great comment.

Any chance I could get a translation of your .sig? I, unfortunately, am sadly deficient at languages other than my own.


-fsh
[ Parent ]

[OT] sig translation (5.00 / 1) (#113)
by Estanislao Martínez on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 12:56:10 AM EST

The sig comes from the chorus of one of my fave songs, "Ayiti Pa Forè" (Haiti is Not a Forest) by Manno Charlemagne, which has one of the most memorable melodies I've ever heard. I can't speak Haitian nor understand much of it (I do speak French, so I can make out some words sometimes), but I've had parts of the song translated for me.

This bit roughly means: "I'm make you feel fear (?), because you're a Macoute // you think you can fool me // You take out your Uzi, I stay relax // You take out your bully club, I stay cool". A "Macoute" is a member of the "Tonton Macoutes", Haiti's secret police under the Duvalier dictatorship.

It's a really great song, which recently is just stuck in my head... and I'm a sucker for pretty songs in creoles.

--em
[ Parent ]

no -- 'proper English' is better (none / 0) (#161)
by klamath on Fri Mar 02, 2001 at 09:50:30 PM EST

"The language you use has an enormous impact on how convincing your argument is" : do you mean "how convincing others perceive you to be"? A valid argument is a valid argument on logical grounds, be it in Chinese or Hixkaryana.
You're confusing logical validity with the word I used: convincing. A logically valid argument is one where the conclusions follow from the premises -- it has nothing to do with the way the argument is presented, or even the truth of the assertions. 'Convincingness', on the other hand, is more much subjective.
But his whole point is not that this is false, but that this is true because of linguistic chauvinism!
I understand that; and my whole point is that it's not linguistic chauvinism because there are empirical advantages to using "proper" English: you can communicate more clearly in "proper" English, and argue more persuasively with better style/grammar.
Thus "Proper English" is in no way some sort of logically prior superior language.
But that's exactly what I'm saying... Not necessarily prior, but I think it is a more effective language. I'd encourage you to translate an essay on philosophy into Ebonics and then present it to a speaker of Ebonics who has a background in philosophy.
A higher premium is also placed on good education and intelligence in the white community than in the communities of racial minorities.
This is a potentially racist statement.
How amusing... please, demonstrate to me how this is rascist.

[ Parent ]
there's nothing special about 'proper' English (none / 0) (#162)
by Estanislao Martínez on Fri Mar 02, 2001 at 11:32:03 PM EST

[...] my whole point is that it's not linguistic chauvinism because there are empirical advantages to using "proper" English: you can communicate more clearly in "proper" English, and argue more persuasively with better style/grammar.

This statement is not clear. Either you are claiming that "proper" English has linguistic features that make it easier to present arguments, or you are making the social claim that because of the position "proper" English holds in USian society, your argument will be taken more seriously if you use that variety. I think the first one is demonstrably false, or at least impossible to support empirically; the second one is true, but is not a fact about language, but about society.

Not necessarily prior, but I think it is a more effective language. I'd encourage you to translate an essay on philosophy into Ebonics and then present it to a speaker of Ebonics who has a background in philosophy.

Why do you believe such a thing would be hard? It's even a dialect of English, so it's even worlds easier than translating it into, say, a Papuan language-- there is an obvious source for borrowing technical terms, which is the technical vocabulary of English.

Anyway, a classic article that seems relevant is this paper by Labov. Look for the part where they discuss their subject "Larry" (though the whole paper is great to read).

How amusing... please, demonstrate to me how this is rascist.

I said it was potentially racist. Basically, I didn't accuse you of anything; I just pointed out that you are standing right on top of a very fine line.

--em
[ Parent ]

clarification (none / 0) (#163)
by klamath on Sat Mar 03, 2001 at 12:23:01 AM EST

Either you are claiming that "proper" English has linguistic features that make it easier to present arguments, or you are making the social claim that because of the position "proper" English holds in USian society, your argument will be taken more seriously if you use that variety.
I think the second is a result of the first. I do think that "Proper" English has inherent advantages over many dialects (many of which are developed for convenience, or in imitation of foreign languages). While I don't think these advantages are enormous, they are still tangible; and because of these advantages, "proper" English is used by certain groups in society (academia, the scientific community, etc), and thus becomes a symbol of intelligence -- which is then imitated by other members of society, etc etc.
How amusing... please, demonstrate to me how this is rascist.
I said it was potentially racist. Basically, I didn't accuse you of anything; I just pointed out that you are standing right on top of a very fine line.
I can't resist ;-) I find true rascism offensive and irrational; but I also find it fun to poke fun at uptight liberals who take any cultural/racial/gender-based observation as a form of descrimination.

[ Parent ]
Maybe missed the point? (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by MmmmJoel on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 02:09:21 AM EST

First off, there is nothing wrong with value judgements. School (and education) is all about true v. false, good v. bad, and right v. wrong.
I disagree, but that's a whole essay in itself. Separation of government and morals is quite a hot topic and it can't be taken for granted that schools should teach good vs. bad and right vs. wrong.
You seem to think that there are no benefits of using "Proper English" beyond the level required for two people to understand each other. But language conveys far more than just ideas or assertions. The language you use has an enormous impact on how convincing your argument is, how authoritive or reliable you appear, and how accurately your ideas are conveyed.
I do believe that there are benefites of using proper English beyond the level of comprehension and understand. As a matter of fact, it's a huge benefit and that what I'm trying to undermine! I have a much greater chance in receiving a job or getting a promotion than an identically smart slow-speaking Southerner. My point is that I do not believe I should be given this advantage and that too much emphasis is placed on the way I speak English.
Slang (such as those dialects you mentioned) rarely encourages good grammar or style. Also, the reason that "Proper English" is similar to the dialect spoken by white Americans is probably because "Proper English" is taught in schools, and most white Americans have more education than other racial minorities. A higher premium is also placed on good education and intelligence in the white community than in the communities of racial minorities. You haven't really demonstrated how "Proper English" is an example of class oppression.
The only reason you called those dialects slang is because it was taught to you that way. If Native Americans were the ones coming from Europe and killing off the white man, than I can assure you that the language you and I are used to would be considered slang. The only reason proper English is better than these slang dialects is that advantage it gives you with other proper English speakers.
Given the chance to work together in an environment where there is no proper language and proper culture can help a person's ego and comfort level tremendously.
How did you reach this conclusion?
I think this may have been confusing because I did not word it clearly. The person I'm referring to is the person who does not speak proper English. It may have a reverse effect for those who do speak proper English.

[ Parent ]
you misunderstood _me_ (none / 0) (#160)
by klamath on Fri Mar 02, 2001 at 09:38:39 PM EST

I do believe that there are benefites of using proper English beyond the level of comprehension and understand. As a matter of fact, it's a huge benefit and that what I'm trying to undermine!
What I was trying to say is that there are empirical reasons to choose "Proper" English over other dialects. The reason "Proper" English is taught in English class is that it aims to communicate your ideas to the reader more clearly and persuasively, and with the correct tone/style.
If Native Americans were the ones coming from Europe and killing off the white man, than I can assure you that the language you and I are used to would be considered slang.
No, I think this is what would happen: there would be various dialects of language spoken. One of these forms of language would be promoted by the academic community, because of the empircal advantages I mentioned before. Once this dialect is embraced by the academic/scientific community, it (rightly) becomes a symbol of education and intelligence, and may become the dominant language in the society. This is not class oppression or any such nonsense.

[ Parent ]
Conventions of written english (4.00 / 10) (#10)
by Elmin on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 12:22:29 AM EST

What you seem to be saying is that the use of conventional english has harmful effects on society, and that school curriculums are to blame. Let us examine this further.

"Teaching prescriptive grammar and proper English in schools and learning centers beyond what is necessary for understanding is damaging to society's racial, ethnic, and cultural relations and implants a superiority complex in the minds of the dominant class."

Note your use of the word "proper," as opposed to "conventional." This is important, because the two are not the same thing. "Proper," as you have pointed out, implies a superiority inherent in the convention, whereas "conventional" identifies it as such and gives it no extra significance, beyond a slight association with normalcy. Why do you choose "proper," then? Is this the word used by all english teachers and grandmothers? Is this your interpretation of the attitude that the dominant class has towards conventional english?

Well, to start out, what is this "english language?" We have a grammar and some vocabulary with pronunciation and written conventions. All of it is convention. Further, we have variations in vocabulary and grammar. When you refer to the english language, which form are you referring to? By your descriptions, I can only assume you are talking about the english used by the "dominant class," english teachers, and grandmothers. Your refer to this by the label "proper english." Since you have already pointed out that "proper" is not a good adjective to describe it, let us call it "conventional english." It is a convention for writing and speaking modern american english.

Because of your terminology, you seem to be assuming that conventional english is popularly viewed as being "proper," at least by the dominant class. To support this, you give two distinct situations in which conventional english is preferred. One is in school, and the other is in corporate america. Currently, one of the objects of education is to teach conventional english, so this example can easily be discarded. As for corporate america, adherance to conventional english can communicate certain things about the character of an individual. For example, some businesses are run under the philosophy that employees should be able to conform to standards in order to perform efficiently, and the exhaustive use of conventional english may exhibit that. Additionally, the departure from conventional english may appear quite awkward unless done skillfully, which may indicate creativity as well. These observations have nothing to do with the conventions themselves, but only the attitudes of the writer toward them. If such standards are not taught, job applicants lose the ability to communicate their ability to adhere to them easily, and businesses must devise another way to guage that ability.

On the other hand, I agree that conventional english may sometimes be used as a superiority complex. This is not always the case, however, and it is not unique to language. Instead of eliminating the teaching of english grammar, which is useful in appreciating works of poetry and prose as well as gauging ability to conform, why not simply attempt to derail the notion of "proper english" and replace it with a more tolerant concept of conventional english?

If you eliminate prescriptive grammar entirely in schools, do not deceive yourself by believing that the prejudices that accompany it will disappear as well. The dominant class can easily find other such conventions to make prejudices out of. For example, imagine a small town where the vast majority speaks west verginian english. Do you think that because conventional english is not taught, children will not make fun of those who speak ebonics? I doubt that this would be the case. Those who make stereotypes based on language do not do it because of english alone, so removing prescriptive grammar from school curriculums will have no effect whatsoever upon their views or their effect on society.

Convention vs. Proper (none / 0) (#18)
by MmmmJoel on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 01:52:09 AM EST

Note your use of the word "proper," as opposed to "conventional." This is important, because the two are not the same thing. "Proper," as you have pointed out, implies a superiority inherent in the convention, whereas "conventional" identifies it as such and gives it no extra significance, beyond a slight association with normalcy. Why do you choose "proper," then? Is this the word used by all english teachers and grandmothers? Is this your interpretation of the attitude that the dominant class has towards conventional english?
This is a very important distinction that has to be made. My use of proper was purposeful, as I don't believe "normal" English is as convential as it seems. I don't speak like I type and I don't think as many people do as the people who speak proper English like to presume. I don't have any hard numbers, but I tend to believe that the number of unconventional English speakers seems much larger than proper English speakers tend to believe. In big business, however, what I call proper English seems to be the convention and it would be 100% accurate to call it conventional English.
On the other hand, I agree that conventional english may sometimes be used as a superiority complex. This is not always the case, however, and it is not unique to language. Instead of eliminating the teaching of english grammar, which is useful in appreciating works of poetry and prose as well as gauging ability to conform, why not simply attempt to derail the notion of "proper english" and replace it with a more tolerant concept of conventional english?
I agree that the superiority complex is not unique to English. I feel that whatever class is in power will determine the proper language they teach in school. I also agree with your last statement completely but I may be interpretting it wrong because we have different notions of proper and conventional English. If "a more tolerant concept of conventional English" includes allowing for sentences with "ain't" and some misconjugated being-verbs, then we are on the same page.
If you eliminate prescriptive grammar entirely in schools, do not deceive yourself by believing that the prejudices that accompany it will disappear as well. The dominant class can easily find other such conventions to make prejudices out of. For example, imagine a small town where the vast majority speaks west verginian english. Do you think that because conventional english is not taught, children will not make fun of those who speak ebonics? I doubt that this would be the case. Those who make stereotypes based on language do not do it because of english alone, so removing prescriptive grammar from school curriculums will have no effect whatsoever upon their views or their effect on society.
I'm certainly not deceived that all the prejudices will disappear with grammar class, but I do disagree in that I believe it will help. At the least I believe it's a step in the right direction.

[ Parent ]
"more tolerant" does not mean more inclu (none / 0) (#130)
by Elmin on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 01:21:18 PM EST

"If 'a more tolerant concept of conventional English' includes allowing for sentences with 'ain't' and some misconjugated being-verbs, then we are on the same page."

Yes, you are interpreting it wrong. What I meant was that the whole notion of a language being "proper" is what needs to be dispelled, not that we should even try and change the convention. By "more tolerant," I mean that people should be aware that language is arbitrary and that "proper" should not be applied to it, not that teachers should encourage the use of "ain't" in a scholarly paper. In other words, I think the problem you are talking about can be better solved by more education, not less.

"At the least I believe it's a step in the right direction."

Which direction is that? Perhaps instead of railing against the teaching of conventional english in school, you should first figure out exactly what you are trying to accomplish by it. "A step in the right direction" is meaningless unless you know and have said what that direction is.

"I agree that the superiority complex is not unique to English."

What I meant was that it is not unique to language in general. Any popular standard, when believed by some to be "proper," can and will be used as a superiority complex. The problem is the notion of propriety, not the standard itself.

[ Parent ]
Me fail English? That's unpossible! (4.35 / 14) (#12)
by Mr. Excitement on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 12:27:29 AM EST

The ability to communicate with precision is an extremely valuable skill, and trying to impart that skill is probably the English teacher's saving grace, not a valid excuse for his condemnation.

The other two valuable language skills English teachers instill are the ability to accurately interpret the meaning of someone who fails to speak with precision, and the skill this article thrashes most thoroughly: the ability to communicate in a presentable manner.

Sure, the meaning of words like "ain't" are well understood, and don't necessarily impede clarity or precision, but using them ain't gonna impress nobody.

1 141900 Mr. Excitement-Bar-Hum-Mal-Cha died in The Gnomish Mines on level 10 [max 12]. Killed by a bolt of lightning - [129]

The myth of "precise language" (5.00 / 5) (#16)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 01:24:08 AM EST

The ability to communicate with precision is an extremely valuable skill, and trying to impart that skill is probably the English teacher's saving grace, not a valid excuse for his condemnation.

Precision does not mean good grammar. As a matter of fact, precision has mostly to do with skills other than writing; to be precise about some object you are describing, first you must be able to discern to a fine grain alternative ways the object in question could be. Then you must map that space of possibilities into language. Only in the second part do language skills come into play; still, most people can do admirably well in expressing themselves precisely about things they know well in a conversational context. (Written language is another matter; it is because writing is a very different medium from speech that we need grammar education.)

You will find that very uneducated speakers can be very precise about things they understand well. Try interviewing poor, illiterate fishermen in a 3rd world country and asking them about their craft-- many of them can express themselves very precisely about it.

But there's still another thing against this "precision" fetish-- natural language is massively ambiguous; yet speakers are very well equipped to deal with ambiguity. Most of the time when somebody decries a particular usage as being "unprecise", in practice the usage in question doesn't cause any more confusion than any other in the language.

I close with a very ironic observation: many colloquial dialects of English have independently developed a distinct 2nd person plural pronoun (e.g. "yous", "y'all", "y'alls"). This makes for much more precise expression in thousands of everyday situations, and even for some technical fields (e.g. in linguistics one is always having to transcribe pronouns from other languages as "you (sg.)" and "you (pl.)". However, this is very nonstandard usage and looked down upon. The "correct" usage is actually the unprecise one.

--em
[ Parent ]

Right. (3.00 / 1) (#25)
by Mr. Excitement on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 02:25:51 AM EST

As I've mentioned, the overuse of colloquialism doesn't necessarily compromise precision; it just doesn't come off as "polished", and there are situations in which image is everything.

Communication isn't simply a means of exchanging information. It's also a method of human interaction, which has many unwritten rules.

1 141900 Mr. Excitement-Bar-Hum-Mal-Cha died in The Gnomish Mines on level 10 [max 12]. Killed by a bolt of lightning - [129]
[ Parent ]

This is the point of the original article... (4.00 / 1) (#58)
by CyberQuog on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 12:52:58 PM EST

it just doesn't come off as "polished", and there are situations in which image is everything.

This is exactly the point of the original article; because you don't use silly rules that make no sense and serve no use, it makes you unfit for a position. Who came up with the rules in the first place though? The people allready in a position of authority did, and it discriminates against people with other dialects; even if those people can convey a message as good or better than you or me.


-...-
[ Parent ]
Close, but not complete. (4.00 / 2) (#63)
by Mr. Excitement on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 01:46:16 PM EST

The point of the article isn't just that there are situations in which image is everything; it's that there are such situations, and that's necessarily a Bad Thing.

I disagree with that last part. Being fair is good; being indiscriminate is not. There are plenty of situations in which presentation is at least as important as conveying a message: law (especially law!), journalism, comedy (and pretty much all forms of entertainment), diplomacy, politics, and just about any form of writing imaginable.

To illustrate the point of presentation being at least as valuable as the message:

  • Whom do you empathize with more: someone who says dryly, "I feel sad," or someone who delivers a haunting flute melody to express his sadness?
  • Who is more likely to garner respect: the preachy moralist who quotes insipid slogans, or the clever author who illustrates those same (still insipid) aphorisms by weaving them into witty fables?
  • Why would anyone ever use devices like rhetorical questions, or bulleted lists?

The answer lies in the fact that human beings are not creatures of reason alone. We have to take into account our evolved instincts, as well. "Flavor" and "texture" count. Sure, Spam(tm) and steak may be equally suited to the task of providing nourishment, but most people would "discriminate" in favor of the steak, for some reason. The same principle also works for things like language.

1 141900 Mr. Excitement-Bar-Hum-Mal-Cha died in The Gnomish Mines on level 10 [max 12]. Killed by a bolt of lightning - [129]
[ Parent ]

I've never understood (5.00 / 1) (#45)
by aphrael on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 05:39:08 AM EST

why standard English doesn't have a seperate second-person plural. German does, and Latin did, so it doesn't make any sense to me that English lost it.

[ Parent ]
Lost it? (none / 0) (#65)
by Mr. Excitement on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 01:59:47 PM EST

Formal use of second-person plural: "Until now, the world has only dreamed of what you, ladies and gentlemen, are about to witness."

Informal use of the second-person plural: "Hey, what are you guys doing next weekend?"

1 141900 Mr. Excitement-Bar-Hum-Mal-Cha died in The Gnomish Mines on level 10 [max 12]. Killed by a bolt of lightning - [129]
[ Parent ]

"Southern English" (5.00 / 1) (#66)
by ucblockhead on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 02:27:02 PM EST

English speakers in the southern US have it.

"Hey, what are you all doing this weekend?"

Usually pronounced like:

"Hey, what are y'all doing this weekend?"

This is exactly how languages change. Slang becomes proper. English teachers (or French teachers in France, Spanish teachers in Spain) are the enemies of this natural evolution.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Perhaps. (4.00 / 1) (#73)
by Mr. Excitement on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 03:13:42 PM EST

So, language teachers (and institutes) should explicitly recognize actual usage patterns as well as ideal, intended, or original usage. Including a common construct into the language is fine; abandoning all semblance of structure in language is not.

1 141900 Mr. Excitement-Bar-Hum-Mal-Cha died in The Gnomish Mines on level 10 [max 12]. Killed by a bolt of lightning - [129]
[ Parent ]
"structure" is always in language (none / 0) (#103)
by ucblockhead on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 07:41:53 PM EST

You can't really abandon any semblance of structure in language because structure will necessarily be there. That is the nature of language. One of the things facinating about the "language rules" is that 99% of them are followed by everybody, without noticing. It is only a very small subset that people routinely break. And when they break them, they nearly always break them in the same way.

People never seem to know how to use the word "whom", yet it is amazingly rare to see anyone ever misuse the word "him". This does not represent a loss of structure. This merely represents a change in structure. The word "whom" has ceased to be of use in English, so people have stopped using it.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
the corollary... (none / 0) (#107)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 11:10:20 PM EST

One of the things facinating about the "language rules" is that 99% of them are followed by everybody, without noticing. It is only a very small subset that people routinely break. And when they break them, they nearly always break them in the same way.

And the corollary is that, if you can find a document saying that such and such way of speaking or writing is incorrect, then you have almost proved that that is the way that people actually spoke and/or wrote that language at that time. For instance, much of what we know about how Latin was changing during the early Middle Ages is due to grammar books from the time and their lists of "common errors" ;).

--em
[ Parent ]

Second-person plural forms (none / 0) (#149)
by TransientReflection on Tue Feb 27, 2001 at 08:03:09 AM EST

Well, "ye" never really went away... at least it's still in standard british english as defined by both oxford + cambridge. The "you" as second-person plural is the "slang" usage...
And irish dialect english has "yous", "yez" and "y'all" in various parts of the country...


[ Parent ]
Yinz (none / 0) (#84)
by Puchitao on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 04:17:18 PM EST

Don't forget the Pittsburghese "yinz" (also, "yunz"). As in "Yinz goin dahntahn t' buy some pants n'at?" or "Yunz kids red' up t'worsh 'e dahg."

Puchitao
Perhaps we can do *snappy fun* with you everytime! -- Orz
[ Parent ]
We seem to have misplaced it (none / 0) (#140)
by cpt kangarooski on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 09:18:37 PM EST

English _did_ have distinct second person singular and plural pronouns. In fact we had doubles. Curiously enough, we've lost three of the four, and the only one left is having to work really hard.

What we had was:
Thee - second person singular objective
You - second person plural objective
Thou - second person singular subjective
Ye - second person plural subjective

From what I've heard, all of these were largely obselete in the 1500's or so. And no one really knows why. It's speculated that it has to do with greater social mobility in England than in most other countries, but that's still a pretty wild guess. Perhaps it also had to do with the strong influence that French had after the Conquest. On an interesting note, as 'thou' increasingly became a form used by the lower classes, it could be used as an insult. (because the person you 'thou' is implied to be low class, natch)

Anyway - although I am a southerner - I strongly support the adoption of 'y'all' as an accepted alternate form of the second person plural. Although, people who use it as a second person singular, or says 'all y'all' should be flogged. Which ought to satisfy everyone.

--
All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]
but... (none / 0) (#155)
by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Feb 27, 2001 at 09:05:56 PM EST

Anyway - although I am a southerner - I strongly support the adoption of 'y'all' as an accepted alternate form of the second person plural.

And why "y'all" instead of "yinz", "youse" or some other such form?

The eternal trap of standardization: which features from which dialects do you choose?

--em
[ Parent ]

More common (none / 0) (#158)
by cpt kangarooski on Wed Feb 28, 2001 at 12:50:39 PM EST

Actually, I don't care if there's several acceptable distinct second person plurals. I know that standardizing languages is undesirable. This is why I just wanted accepted.

But in my experience, y'all seems to be more well known. Everyone in the states at least is pretty certainly aware of it, as it's a well known southernism. And I've known people from all over the country who aren't southerners that actually use it. Yinz and youse aren't, AFAIK, common is as large swaths of the country. Plus, y'all is a clearly understandable contraction, which can probably help its adoption. Lots of words come about by being compounded and contracted. Sadly, it's a bit more annoying to type than plain old you. Perhaps we can quickly evolve it to yal if that becomes an issue for written communication.

(as long as we're on the subject, allow me to share a quote on English that I saved from wherever it comes from - probably rec.games.frp.gurps: The problem with protecting the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. English doesn't just borrow words from other languages; it has been known to pursue other languages down dark alleyways, club them unconcious, and rifle through their pockets looking for new vocabulary.)

--
All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]

Genius subject tagline (3.00 / 2) (#31)
by Greyjack on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 03:12:24 AM EST

Yeah, this is a sorta editorial comment, not really adding to the conversation--I just had to rate the above comment a 5 purely because of the subject line ("Me fail English? That's unpossible!").

I'm still giggling after five minutes. It's a good thing I wasn't taking a slug off my Coke when I saw it, or I'd have very clean sinuses right now.

--
Here is my philosophy: Everything changes (the word "everything" has just changed as the word "change" has: it now means "no change") --Ron Padgett


[ Parent ]
In case you didn't know... (5.00 / 2) (#56)
by Khalad on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 11:25:58 AM EST

This is from The Simpsons. I think it's the episode where Lisa joins the hockey team and starts a rivalry between herself and Bart. The scene goes more or less like this*:
At school one day Principal Skinner is handing out report cards in the auditorium to students who have failed a class. So he calls up Ralph Wiggam.

"Wiggam, Ralph."

Ralph walks up on stage and sees his card. English class. "Me fail English? That's unpossible!" He walks off stage.

Then Skinner calls, "Simpson!"

Lisa looks at Bart and smiles.

"Lisa Simpson."

What? She goes up on stage and sees her card. It says gym class. "Gym class? How could I possibly fail gym class?!" She crumples up the paper and throws it at a nearby garbage can. It lands at her feet.

*I don't claim to be able to write (let alone comedy) or to have remembered everything (correctly).

You remind me why I still, deep in my bitter crusty broken heart, love K5. —rusty


[ Parent ]
I'm sure he did... (none / 0) (#94)
by Mr. Excitement on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 06:16:26 PM EST

I figured he was commenting on my choice and application of the quote for the topic at hand. IIRC, your description of the scene from the Simpsons is pretty accurate. =-)

1 141900 Mr. Excitement-Bar-Hum-Mal-Cha died in The Gnomish Mines on level 10 [max 12]. Killed by a bolt of lightning - [129]
[ Parent ]
Jane Austen used 'ain't' (4.00 / 1) (#135)
by sparkles on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 04:22:47 PM EST

It's a contraction of 'am not.' One of those morons who tried to write down the rules of the language without understanding them thought the word sounded funny and declared it 'ungrammatical.'

Of course, nobody's come up with a better way to say it.

[ Parent ]
proper citations (3.66 / 6) (#15)
by Delirium on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 12:57:55 AM EST

*** Headlines borrowed from Peter McWilliams's excellent Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do. I apologize for not conforming to MLA bibliography standards. ;-)

While you're probably poking fun at the rigid formatting requirements of the MLA citations, the actual citations do have a point which is excellently illustrated here by your lack of a proper citation. If you were to give a proper citation of your source (whether in MLA, Chicago, or other format), I could go look up that source. With your rather lackluster citation I cannot easily go do that. Is "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do" a book? A magazine article? A play? A movie? How old is it? Is this something recent or something from 20 years ago? All this information is rather useful...

Irony (4.00 / 1) (#17)
by Elmin on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 01:44:45 AM EST

If MmmmJoel is conforming to standard formatting practices, the italics would seem to indicate that it is a book or other independant work. Since his intent does seem to be to poke fun at such practices, even that small hint is lost to ambiguity.

[ Parent ]
Peter McWilliams (4.00 / 1) (#29)
by MmmmJoel on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 02:44:20 AM EST

Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do was actually recommended reading from an older k5 story. I'll rerecommend it here.

[ Parent ]
I couldn't agree with you more. (1.42 / 7) (#30)
by yetisalmon on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 02:50:53 AM EST

I feel that the worst part of school is how there is a formula for everything. The big mistake in English and in writing practice, is that guidelines are given. How can someone accurately and fully express themselves if they are given guidelines? It disallows expnasion of the mind. Thank you for your essay.

Nobody will beat you up if you express yourself (3.80 / 5) (#35)
by i on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 03:33:36 AM EST

in any way you chose. But remember, kids: "Proper English" is not meant to express yourselves. It is for formal communications. In formal communications, you don't express yourself. Rather, you get your point across. Those guidelines are designed to maximise conformance, not expressiveness. You don't need a lot of the latter if you write an expence report or a user manual.

By the way, without proper norm a language will disintegrate into mess of dialects very quickly, followed by disintegration of society and state. Care to disprove it? Head on. I mean, heads up. Oh, I know! Go ahead! Go ahead and disprove it.

The situation described in the articleis by no means unique to English in the United States. "Proper language" is taught everywhere, and there are always a category of people who don't like it. Such people invariably portray themselves as fighters for linguistic freedom, and it turns out that most of them have failed their language grades, or failed to become successful writers, or something like that.



and we have a contradicton according to our assumptions and the factor theorem

[ Parent ]
Method (none / 0) (#156)
by yetisalmon on Wed Feb 28, 2001 at 12:05:41 AM EST

You do have some fairly good points, I will give you that. And you are right, I do make low grades in my English class, even though I find literature to be extremely interesting. I do like reading, and I do like writing.

I guess one thing I am more fetup with at school is the way it is structured. I certainly believe that teaching kids to fear from a failing grade, and for that to be the only motivation, is backwards. Teachers (in general) have become (have always been?) extremely boring. School, for me, is very depressing. I think the process of "grading" kids and ranking them in class is horrible. It is upsetting always when you find out you are low in your class, or not as high as someone else. I feel less than others most of the time, even though I know I am not. This is what I feel most strongly about. Maybe you can understand this point of view.

[ Parent ]
Pirsig was right. (3.00 / 3) (#36)
by fink on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 04:31:52 AM EST

The book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance goes into this in some detail. An online copy can be found here, although it is a book I would recommend you all read in paper form.

Placing rules on the language is ridiculous - because all one does by doing so is break those rules immediately.


----
[ Parent ]

"Proper English" == "-ansi -pedanti (4.12 / 16) (#34)
by Apuleius on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 03:25:57 AM EST

You are wrong. You are dead wrong. You are not doing yourself any favors to equate 'Proper English' with oppression. You are certainly not helping anyone you sway to your view.

For better or worse, English is the lingua franca (pardon the pun) for the planet. English has several merits behind it: a linguistic proximity to several other languages, a large base of speakers, and the merit of being the language of the pioneers of flight, radio, television, (pedants: note I say pioneers, not inventors) and dare I say it, the Internet. It also helps that English can readily integrate new words into itself, that its grammar is simple and largely positional (but not insanely so).

There are numerous dialects of English, with differences in vocabulary, enunciation, and in grammar. By necessity, some dialect has to dominate over the others. Keep in mind that English has a wide range of these dialects, that are not fully mutually intelligible. The middle of the road dialects are those of southern England, and the American Midwest. The fringe goes very far out. There's the Newfoundland dialect, which is so far out that sometimes when a Newfie is on television, the station really does set up subtitles, for one example. There's also the dialect of English that India uses for commerce. It contains enough Hindi and is spoken with enough Hindi enunciation that it is not easy for people from the rest of Greater Anglophonia to understand it.

This is why Proper English is needed. It is the dialect that you can use to be understood by Americans from all over, by Canadians, by Brits, Aussies, Indians, and foreigners like myself. If your teacher forced you to learn those rules, be glad, just as I'm grateful to the BOFH who forced this PFY to learn to be ANSI pedantic. It's damn useful.

I first learned English in grammar school in Israel, back when my country was still waffling between British and American English for the schools. I first had to speak English fluently in Australia, then in Chicago. 15 years later, I can speak in the dialects of Boston, Chicago, and Melbourne, but also in bland proper Midwestern English, and in acceptably proper British English, and I have some pedantic teachers to thank for that. Also, although my two French teachers by your book might have had an excuse to be parochial (one was Quebecois and the other Provencal), I'm glad they taught me Parisian French. To top it all, I'm glad my schoolteachers made sure my Hebrew pronounciation was Sephardic, and not bass-ackward Ashkenasic.

Language is for communication as much as for expression. Don't begrudge having to conform to a few RFCs on occasion. When I first started learning English I could not pronounce 'r', 'l', 'g', 'th', 'TH', and most embarassingly I could not distinguish 'sheet' from 'shit', or 'butt' from 'bat' from 'bath'. I'm glad I can now, not because it means Americans won't ridicule me (ridiculing foreigners is somethings Americans do far less than other people, by the way), but because it means Americans understand me, which is far more important.




There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
Pidgins (4.50 / 4) (#38)
by aphrael on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 05:15:41 AM EST

For better or worse, English is the lingua franca (pardon the pun) for the planet.

Ironically, this helps prove his point. :)

The English which is spoken in much of western Europe is British English --- and a well-taught version of it; many people in western Europe are more grammatically correct than most Americans.

But ... the English spoken in the rest of the world is not quite as good. And when someone from Japan who speaks English as a second language is using it to communicate with someone from, say, India, who also speaks English as a second (or even third) language, the conversation quickly abandons rigid American or British grammar as the people speaking search to find ways to express complex thoughts in a language they are only passingly familiar with --- the grammar is at that point an impediment to communication, so it is dropped.

This process is pretty common; someone with more linguistic training than I have may be able to elaborate on it better. It was at play in the history of English, which lost much of its grammatical complexity because the grammar was impeding communication between the French invaders and the Germanic residents of the island.

I'm not saying that grammar is useless ---- grammar rules are a great tool for learning languages, and for comparing and analyzing them. But insisting on rigid adherence to grammar is silly.

[ Parent ]

eh, no (4.00 / 4) (#39)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 05:17:02 AM EST

English has several merits behind it: a linguistic proximity to several other languages

This, of course, is an almost trivial assertion about most languages, and thus, not a merit at all of English in particular.

it also helps that English can readily integrate new words into itself

Myth. I have never seen a single shred of evidence for this anecdotal claim. People in first world countries manage to talk about all of the aspects of the contemporary world in their own language.

And to derail an expected counterargument, no, I don't count borrowing English words as "not using your language". This idea only makes the people who propose it sound ignorant. If you think "À'a shop les boys m'on dit l'foreman veut que tu déloades la van avant d'puncher à'a fin d'ton shift" is not French, but some "mixed language", you are just wrong.

that its grammar is simple and largely positional (but not insanely so).

What is this supposed to mean?

This is why Proper English is needed. It is the dialect that you can use to be understood by Americans from all over, by Canadians, by Brits, Aussies, Indians, and foreigners like myself.

I don't think ultimately the article denies this. Hey, after all, this is what the article's thesis says:

Teaching prescriptive grammar and proper English in schools and learning centers beyond what is necessary for understanding
It think that the emphasized part robs your objection of its whole point.

Also, although my two French teachers by your book might have had an excuse to be parochial (one was Quebecois and the other Provencal), I'm glad they taught me Parisian French.

Why? I don't see anything wrong with speaking Québecois. I speak French with much more of a Québecois accent, and it has never caused me a problem. Nowadays any educated speaker of French can realize that Québecois is a mark of being canadian, not of uneducation.

So, repeat with me: "Sitôt parké dans l'driveway j'vas su'l'sundeck starter l'charcoal!" ;)

To top it all, I'm glad my schoolteachers made sure my Hebrew pronounciation was Sephardic, and not bass-ackward Ashkenasic.

By referring to a dialect as "bass-ackward", you crossed the line that delimits reasoned (though given what I said above, pointless) argument about the convenience of normative language, and entered the domain of linguistic chauvinism.

The whole point behind this argument was an attack on the second, not on the first. You respond by treating it as an attack on the first, and appealing to the second. Grand, huh?

--em
[ Parent ]

"Proper English" (none / 0) (#92)
by ucblockhead on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 06:04:53 PM EST

The "Proper English" taught by language pendants is not the same as the American English that is so widespread. If it was, then there wouldn't need to be picky English teachers complaining about "whom" and what sorts of words people end sentences with. *

The "common" form of English is spread by Hollywood and the news media, and comes from the everyday speach of the people who make up those industries. And it is distinctly different from "Proper English" in terms things like those mentioned above, certain meanings of the word "good", etc.

Yes, the rules are important, but they are not ironbound. They evolve over time. And it is a mistake to pretend they never change. Just because "whom" was common two-hundred years ago does not mean it is a requirement now.

This is especially true of the utterly arbitrary way many of these rules appeared. Things like the rule never to split and infinitive were not part of any original English, but instead, were grafted on the the language by 16th century language pendants from Latin.

However much people want to plaster on rules from above, the real rules of any language are created by consensus. The real rules are those that speakers of the language follow. Many people mistake this for there being "no rules" or for people "not knowing the rules". Nothing could be further from the truth.

* Yes, on purpose.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
All I have to say is, (2.43 / 16) (#48)
by gblues on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 07:38:36 AM EST

All your base are belong to us :)

Nathan
... although in retrospect, having sex to the news was probably doomed to fail from the get-go. --squinky
Grammar (3.00 / 1) (#49)
by {ice}blueplazma on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 08:02:10 AM EST

As an 8th grade Honors English student, I have a picky teacher. She will reprimand someone for using "who" instead of "whom." Grammar has become so complex in English. It seems that in other languages, there are set rules that aren't broken. Example, in French, you are told that "ille" is pronounced a certain way. Always. No exceptions. That's why other languages have accents. So if they want to pronounce something differently, the rules still hold true.

English grammar is obviously too complex for people to effectively learn. I can write a paper just fine. However, my English teacher insists that I follow set rules and use "proper" grammar. I think that if young children can speak properly, then as long as they know that they should use words from a dictionary, they don't need to learn all sorts of boring and mind-numbing grammar.

"Denise, I've been begging you for the kind of love that Donny and Smitty have, but you won't let me do it, not even once!"
--Jimmy Fallon
Grammar (4.00 / 1) (#50)
by Gorgonzola on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 08:44:04 AM EST

I think that you are confusing grammar and pronounciation. French pronounciation is indeed fairly straightforward. The rest of that language, including grammar, has its fair share of exceptions however. The same applies to quite a few other languages. Pronounciation of some languages is a lot more difficult than English. Try Dutch, my native language, for a starter. There are no pronounciation rules to speak of. You either get it or you don't. Proper English grammar is not that terribly difficult. Using 'who' instead of 'whom' is just laziness and a lack of focus on the semantics you are trying to get across. How are you supposed to get attention to your message if you are not paying attention to formulate it properly in the first place? If you are not, then you are most likely not worth listening to.
--
A page a day keeps ignorance of our cultural past away, or you can do your bit for collaborative media even if you haven't anything new or insightful to say.

[ Parent ]
Re: Grammar (none / 0) (#165)
by Doktor Merkwuerdigliebe on Sun Apr 08, 2001 at 06:39:19 PM EST

Now now, there are most definitely rules to the pronounciation of Dutch. I would say it's about par with English as far as the difficulty is concerned, which is not surprising as the two are closely related. There are some irregularities, but those appear in almost any language. Dutch probably got the reputation of being hard to pronounce due to certain consonants being exceedingly difficult to foreign tongues, like our "g" or "sch". I've never heard a non-Dutch speaker pronounce "van Gogh" correctly ;-)

Also Sprach Doktor Merkwürdigliebe...
[ Parent ]
Re: Grammar (5.00 / 1) (#51)
by timefactor on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 08:50:21 AM EST

English grammar is relatively simple when compared to most other languages. There is no gender, few cases, no declension, minimal differences in conjugation. English does have a huge vocabulary with very inconsistent spelling and pronunciation. That isn't grammar.

- I cannot believe in the existence of God, despite all the statistics. - Borges
[ Parent ]
The myth: "English grammar is simple" (5.00 / 4) (#53)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 09:40:43 AM EST

English grammar is relatively simple when compared to most other languages. There is no gender, few cases, no declension, minimal differences in conjugation.

But OTOH, English has strict word order, subject and object depictives and resultatives[*], tons of prepositions (prepositions are every bit as tough as cases), with all kinds of argument-selection properties, prepositional particle verbs, and noun-noun compounds galore. English grammar is far from simple.

[*] Subject depictive: John read the book naked. Object depictive: John ate the meat raw. Resultative: John shot the man dead. The adjective, on first look, seems to occupy the same slot in each sentence. The function, however, is very different in each case.

--em
[ Parent ]

re: The myth: "English grammar is simple" (none / 0) (#54)
by timefactor on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 10:34:16 AM EST

You are clearly more knowledgeable than I am about this subject and I therefore defer to you. However, the large number and inconsistent usage of prepositions is not, I believe, an issue of grammar but, again, of vocabulary. Some of your other points could be used as evidence of the relative paucity of formal rules of grammar in English. English relies more on idiom and usage than formal rules. That may make it ultimately more complex but the rules themselves are generally fewer and simpler, I believe.

- I cannot believe in the existence of God, despite all the statistics. - Borges
[ Parent ]
Prepositions (none / 0) (#95)
by fsh on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 06:18:07 PM EST

While the actual prepositions are vocabulary, their correct placement in the sentence is definitely grammatical. IE, ending an English sentence with a preposition is a grammatical error.


-fsh
[ Parent ]

Depictives and resultatives who now? (4.00 / 1) (#55)
by Khalad on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 11:06:18 AM EST

I have no idea what you just said, so I'll give you a 5.

You remind me why I still, deep in my bitter crusty broken heart, love K5. —rusty


[ Parent ]
Degrees of conformity in English (none / 0) (#101)
by jet_silver on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 06:50:24 PM EST

This comment relies on an assumption: that there are exactly two kinds of English: the correct kind and all incorrect kinds. In fact there are degrees of error in all English, much like the degrees that you talk about with the phrase "not impossible" a few postings up, and what you're missing here is the fact that flawed English is still useful and intelligible.

What we can probably agree on is that a person can be -intelligible- even when his speech contains gross violations of this particular structural example. John shot dead the man. John the raw meat ate. Obviously both sentences have word order problems but we still get the idea. It is probably easier to be intelligible in English than in most other languages, which I think is what the particular claim is about. There's just less to go wrong with English.

That's why English is so much used in order to talk about things. Two other languages I'm accustomed to, French and Japanese, are nowhere near so error-tolerant, and one dialect, Hawaiian pidgin, is error-tolerant but such a cultural icon that errors are occasion for fun.

The fact that a language is error-tolerant has nothing to do with whether its rules are specific. The only question is how peaky (in terms of Q or something like it) the language is. If you don't get the tones right (I understand) in Vietnamese you are -incapable- of making yourself understood, so in terms of tonality you are either right or wrong - and if you are wrong you are very wrong indeed. Not so with English. You can make a very sloppy statement, full of errors, and still be right enough to have communicated.
"What they really fear is machine-gunning politicians becoming a popular sport, like skate-boarding." -Nicolas Freeling
[ Parent ]

Heh! (none / 0) (#143)
by scheme on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 10:33:41 PM EST

Hawaiian pidgin, is error-tolerant but such a cultural icon that errors are occasion for fun.

Woo-woo you da man, brah. I guess you when stay in da' kine islands fer a while, eh? It's great to see another kama'aina on k5, although I now stay in the mainland and get pleny cold and choke snow now. Seriously I would kill for a nice plate lunch and some spam musubi.


"Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT'S relativity." --Albert Einstein


[ Parent ]
good observation, bad example (none / 0) (#60)
by psicE on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 01:05:58 PM EST

Obviously, I agree with you, and I know how bad your English teacher is personally (or at least pretty close). And you're right, English is very inconsistent, probably the hardest Indo-European language to learn (that includes grammar, spelling, pronunciation, and vocabulary). In fact, here's a quote from the Esperanto site (for those of you who don't know, Esperanto is an artificially-constructed language that is made explicitly for international communication where there is no common language):

****
English is a very difficult language to learn unless you've been immersed in it since birth. English spelling is said to be more difficult than any other language except Gaelic. English grammar, although it may be fairly simple, is riddled with exceptions. Verbs are very often irregular. Many people just aren't going to devote several years of effort to learn it!

English has gained its present stature because of the current economic and political power of English-speaking countries. In the past, every super-power has briefly seen its native tongue used internationally: France, Spain, Portugal, the Roman empire. In fact, one of the main reasons why Esperanto was never adopted by the League of Nations was that France blocked efforts to adopt it. At the time, French was "the international language", and France expected it to stay that way forever. They were proven wrong within twenty years.
****

So if French was the official language of the US right now, and we were taught English as a second language, it'd be a lot harder than the way it is now.

As per the difficulty of learning French:

****
For a native English speaker, we may estimate that Esperanto is about five times as easy to learn as Spanish or French, ten times as easy to learn as Russian, twenty times as easy to learn as Arabic or spoken Chinese, and infinitely easier to learn than Japanese. Many people find that they speak Esperanto better after a few months' study than a language they learned at school for several years.
****

English isn't in that list, but it would probably go up between French and Russian, or maybe even higher. However, as anybody who's taken Spanish would know, it has almost no inconsistencies in spelling and conjugation compared to French (*nothing* is contracted). Maybe you should have used Spanish in your example instead of French.

One thing that English teachers (among others) do need to remember is that context can often provide comprehension. If you say 'who' but mean 'whom', and your teacher can tell, who cares? That's true for almost any conjugation: you only need to make things like gender, number, etc. evident where it counts. Take the sentences "Le brun chien mange" and "Les bruns chiens mangent". The definite article and adjective are conjugated for both number and gender, and the verb is conjugated for number. English does better: "The brown dog eats", "The brown dogs eat". The article and adjective are no longer conjugated at all, but the verb is. Esperanto is even better than that: "La bruna hundo manĝis", "La bruna hundoj manĝis" (if it comes out strange, the last word should be mangis with a circumflex over the g). The only word that changes is the noun, because it becomes plural. Everything else stays the same.

Most of the time, in English (the language), there's so much redundancy in conjugation that minor (or sometimes even major) absences in correct grammar doesn't at all affect the readability. We as a country need to stop harassing people for it, and get a better language.

[ Parent ]
never take an esperantist's word at face value... (none / 0) (#120)
by Estanislao Martínez on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 03:53:33 AM EST

Esperantists have a very obvious agenda, and a good number of them are quite ignorant about linguistics...

Anyway, to keep this post from being just that, here's a link to an essay against Esperanto. Some bits and the tone I don't fully agree with, but overall it's thought provoking.

--em
[ Parent ]

Freanch is no less complex. (none / 0) (#126)
by binford2k on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 12:09:31 PM EST

It seems that in other languages, there are set rules that aren't broken.


Hmm, I am going to have beg to differ with you on that. And I'll even use your chosen language, French, as an example. I dare you to use the word baiser as a verb in a sentence with your teacher. Your French teacher, that is. Simply walk up to her and utter the phrase "baisez-vous professeur." Literally this word translates to kiss, but if you use it as a verb, the meaning is greatly transformed. I will leave it as an exercise to you to find out to what it translates.

French as a language is complex because the vocabulary is more limited. Therefore, words and phrases mean different things depending greatly on context. With Freanch, it is even more necessary to learn proper grammar.

-b

[ Parent ]
/me needs to take typing classes! (none / 0) (#127)
by binford2k on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 12:11:42 PM EST

One of these days I will learn to preview! *lol*

[ Parent ]
Sloppy language leads to sloppy thought (3.90 / 10) (#59)
by slinberg on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 01:04:01 PM EST

Please read Politics and the English Language by George Orwell before you decide that there's nothing wrong with sloppy, it's-fine-as-long-as-we-understand-each-other language. Orwell's basic argument is this:

  1. Sloppy language leads to, and is further caused by, sloppy thought.
  2. Sloppy thinkers are easily manipluated and oppressed.
  3. This is bad, so learn your f*cking grammar and stop whining.

(OK, the last point is my own summary. Read the article.)



If you use Orwell as your guide... (4.00 / 2) (#78)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 03:58:08 PM EST

...you're in trouble. Yes, Orwell was a really good writer; this doesn't mean he was close to being competent as a linguist, let alone as an authority when it comes to speaking about language.

1.Sloppy language leads to, and is further caused by, sloppy thought.

Of course, he never really gets around to defining "sloppy language". But I would definitely argue that he did not primarily intend to mean that some dialects of English are "sloppy", and some not; rather, he was thinking about some linguistic practices common among the elite of his day.

And his recommendations and complaints about language usage are, for the most part, plain ridiculous. For example, his condemntaion of expressions like "not impossible" as redundant. But they aren't-- possibility is not a yes/no thing, but occurs among a scale ranging from flat-out impossible, going through the very unlikely, the plain unlikely, the likely, the almost-but-not-quite certain, to logical truth. "Possible" and "not impossible" typically refer to different points along that scale-- "not impossible" leans towards the unlikeliness range of the scale. Or a more simple example: "not bad" plainly does not mean "good".

In Orwell's defense, if somebody says "The fascist octopus has sung his swan song", my goodness, hang them ;).

--em
[ Parent ]

Orwell... (4.00 / 1) (#117)
by spcmanspiff on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 01:40:53 AM EST

Ah. Glad to see someone bringing up Orwell -- thought I might have to do so myself, and I'm a little too sleep-deprived to be coherent.

I think Orwell would be disgusted by the shoddy state of english education. In The Bad Old Days (high school), I dropped out of AP English because I grew tired of the constant promotion of convoluted sentence structures, grown farflung and groping beyond the concept that the sentence was originally meant to convey -- the more puncation marks utilized in the sentence, and the less pithy your scribings, the higher the grading became, without regard or insight into the thought processes behind the writing -- a virtual facade for feigning intelligence, which is symptomatic of many problems inherent in the Western tradition of quantifying intellectual performance; indeed, heirarchy, bureaucracy, and other forms of command and control have no vested interest in writing as art, or writing as communication, simply so long as the words can be rapidly and efficiently judged, along with their writer, thus leading to .... what was I saying, again?

Obviously, I'm almost through college now. :) (Three months... egads! Someone give me a job quick so I can have the $$ to trapse around europe, like all those other cool kids!)

Anyway, back on topic:
1. Sloppy language = sloppy thought, fine. What about _complicated_ thought? Fine line there, and that's why sloppy writing is often mistaken for intelligent writing.
2. Sloppy language also, AFAIR, is used *by* the opressors in a) hiding their true intentions, and b) generally confusing everyone who engages the ruling bureaucracy.
3. Grammar doesn't cut it. A better thing would be to: Learn f*king BS when you see it, and learn not to write it, either. Grammar & spelling are optional, I would say... And this, although I did just skim, is sorta what the article author is trying to say...

[ Parent ]
computerized essay grading, and more... (none / 0) (#119)
by Estanislao Martínez on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 03:15:43 AM EST

The more puncation marks utilized in the sentence, and the less pithy your scribings, the higher the grading became, without regard or insight into the thought processes behind the writing -- a virtual facade for feigning intelligence, which is symptomatic of many problems inherent in the Western tradition of quantifying intellectual performance [...]

Which, of course, all leads to computers grading your essays. Of course, the computer can't understand your essay at all, and the software doesn't even *try*, for that matter:

E-rater examines 50 linguistic features, including transitional phrases, vocabulary and the ratio of complement clauses to the total number of sentences.
1. Sloppy language = sloppy thought, fine. What about _complicated_ thought? Fine line there, and that's why sloppy writing is often mistaken for intelligent writing.

While I disagree with that equation, I think the rest of your statement is dead on and concise. Very fine line indeed.

2. Sloppy language also, AFAIR, is used *by* the opressors in a) hiding their true intentions, and b) generally confusing everyone who engages the ruling bureaucracy.

Which is the good part of Orwell's essay. The fact that he is horribly ignorant about linguistics, and bigoted about language, is the bad part.

3. Grammar doesn't cut it. A better thing would be to: Learn f*king BS when you see it, and learn not to write it, either.

Easier said than done...

--em
[ Parent ]

Style vs. Function.. (none / 0) (#61)
by CyberQuog on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 01:07:19 PM EST

To me this whole thing seems to come down to which is more important, the "style" of a piece, how it looks and sounds; or the "function" of a piece, how it conveys information and ideas. A piece can convey information very well while still using horrible grammer, and breaking all the rules of english. Also, pieces of writing can concentrate solely on the style, while it conveys no actual information. Unfortunatly, in todays society, style is more important than function. People would rather read drivel about nothing, than a grammatically incorrect essay on the meaning of life.

Goddam grammre knotzis :)


-...-
If in doubt, throw it out. (2.50 / 4) (#62)
by psicE on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 01:38:15 PM EST

Why don't we just switch? Immediately instate bilingual education programs in all states, but treat English as the language you're trying to eliminate and Spanish as the language you're trying to teach. Just use California's policy; teach kids nothing but Spanish for one year until they learned it proficiently, then administer all subjects in Spanish.

The problem will be getting adults to learn it, and the fact that kids won't be able to speak Spanish at home. Solution: Create a government program that allows people to take a night-class every day for a year (or longer, if necessary); hire all the Spanish-speaking illegal immigrants at day care centers into which all of the kids can go until their parents know Spanish. Exempt all of the people learning Spanish from their taxes; deport anyone who doesn't cooperate to Australia, the UK, and Canada (pick countries out of a hat, but put more items in for a country if there's more space available). To pay for all of this, steal Turkish lira and then set the exchange rate equal to a dollar for a lira. (Turkey will love us for this; maybe we can get them to become a "territory" and switch to Spanish also.)

After a hundred years, start pretending that Mexico is a state. By the time the ruler of Mexico complains, everybody else in Mexico will be using American dollars and be following American laws, and he'll have no choice but to step down. Do the same for South America a hundred years later, and Spain two hundred years later. By that time, the number of Spanish speakers will far outweigh the number of Chinese speakers, and we can send in a bunch of Spanish missionaries to overthrow the Communist government.

While we're at it, maybe we can convert to the Metric system, Euros (currency), and GSM. But probably not.

Standard for Academic interchange (4.50 / 2) (#67)
by dieman on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 02:42:43 PM EST

Yes, we need standards there too. Long ago many schools easily picked "Proper English" in the US. Henceforth, High Schools, usually ment to prepare students for higher education, teach "Proper English". It's not about superiority or eroding, its about teaching the standards others expect for interchange. More of a time saver than an attack.
---
blah
Funniest Story Ever (4.30 / 10) (#68)
by eskimo on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 02:43:07 PM EST

This whole post is going to be in italics because I am not going to close the tag. It is inconvenient, and I am not going to succumb to the man's demand that I close tags. I am subverting the system, and especially 'whitey.'

I haven't posted in a while, and now I see why. This isn't a troll. It is a rabid troll. It is beautifully written, and it practically makes sense, but in the context that it is being posted on a technology site, it is funny. Keep in mind, I think k5 should be about whatever we want. The topics aren't necessarily what we have in common. We are just a bunch of technoligically inclined people talking about stuff. Which makes this fair game, except for one tiny little problem.

To look at language as anything but code is foolish. Grammar is the framework we all use daily to exchange ideas. Sure, there are going to be variations, but there also has to be a standard. Just like there has to be a standard for exchanging files, or maintaining databases, or whatever.

I also love how suddenly I have to have a scarlet 'whom' embroidered on my clothes. Am I a racist because I use the word 'whom?' This is the most trollish statement of all. Especially considering many ethnic groups create jargon to separate themselves from other groups. Are ethnic minorities being racist because they came up with the enigmatic 'bling-bling?' Is there even an ebonics textbook? I'll read it, just point me in the right direction. Until they categorize and explain the differences in grammar, language and spelling though, they are just as actively excluding me with their closed source lingo of he street.

Of course I don't feel excluded. I have been one of the biggest critics of grammar police here, but this is absurd. At least I still hate 'the man.' Look at my italics.

I am my own home. - Banana Yoshimoto

Esperanto (5.00 / 1) (#72)
by fsh on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 03:10:41 PM EST

The point of the article isn't that grammar should be completely gotten rid of. The author clearly says that it shouldn't be taught beyond what is necessary for comprehension. The problem is that although corporate America may hold the reigns to the nation, it's still a very small percentage of the overall population. How is knowing perfect Enlgish going to help someone who isn't going to corporate america and never will? A friend of mine manages a fast food restaraunt. He's currently learning Spanish so he can better communicate with his employees. Another friend of mine is self-employed; he needs to be able to communicate with his customers, most of who are stalwart southerners. Speaking like a yankee to a southern farmer is looked at as condescending around here, so he talks like them.

Esperanto is another great example. This language was designed to be a universal language. People started teaching it to their children, and it had a very well designed prescriptive grammar. Guess what happened? The first generation children immediately began playing with the language, and making up nonstandard forms. It was even worse with the second generation. Of course, the term 'worse' here only applies to the perspective of those who created the language as a universal language; to the children, it was merely another form of expression. Who is to say that one is better than the other?


-fsh
[ Parent ]

Might as well get rid of all education (2.66 / 3) (#83)
by bjrubble on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 04:11:16 PM EST

If your goal in education is to teach only the minimum amount you deem absolutely necessary, you can eliminate 90% of the curriculum right off the bat. Science, history, literature -- all gone. Math taught only through addition and subtraction -- really, how many people use multiplication on a regular basis?

Maybe I'm just an idealist. I think you should treat kids like future scientists, professionals and leaders, rather than future fast food managers.

Krapobble: You're selling out these children's future!
Skinner: Oh, come on, Edna, we both know these children have no future!

[ Parent ]
Value judgements (none / 0) (#89)
by fsh on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 05:33:42 PM EST

You seem to be saying that the only place someone can learn is at school. This is simply not so. If someone is curious about a particular subject, then they can have the opportunity to learn it on their own. (everyone uses multiplication & division, btw, to calculate tips if nothing else. A better example would have been trig.)

In any case, why is being a fast food manager any better or worse a career than venture capitalist? This is the very elitist attitude that I'm arguing against. I eat at fast food restaraunts all the time. He makes a good living and is able to support his family.

Maybe I'm just an idealist. I think you should treat kids like future scientists, professionals and leaders, rather than future fast food managers.
On the other hand, I think you should treat children as future members of a cohesive society. Fast Food Managers are just as important to the structure of society as scientists. And, a fast food manager *is* a leader and a professional. In any case, not everyone can be a leader - else who would follow? Many people aren't psychologically cut out for leadership; not everyone is an alpha.

Also, there are a very finite number of these jobs available. In many science fields, the waiting lists for actual positions are terribly long (physics and astrophysics come immediately to mind). Once these jobs are filled, the other children we raised in that fashion are going to be seen as 'failures', and will be 'forced' to take a 'less desireable' job. The simple fact is that regardless of what corporate america wants us to think, the *vast* majority of jobs are blue-collar jobs.


-fsh
[ Parent ]

Re: "on your own" (none / 0) (#110)
by flieghund on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 12:17:29 AM EST

Once these jobs are filled, the other children we raised in that fashion are going to be seen as 'failures', and will be 'forced' to take a 'less desireable' job.
So, if I'm understanding you correctly, since not all children can be be a leader, or an astrophysicist, we shouldn't bother providing the resources for children to aspire to that level? I agree that we (as a society) do a disservice to children if all we tell them is that they "should be" leaders, or astrophysicists, or whatever. Yet if this line of thinking is summarily rejected -- in effect, teaching children that they shouldn't aspire to be leaders, or astrophysicists, etc., because most of them will never reach that level -- aren't we doing children an equal disservice? (For example, how does one "learn" to be a leader "on your own"?) And isn't this a recipe for creating an "anti-intellectual" environment in which people who aspire to be something more (with whatever elitist connotations you want to attach to that) are viewed as social outcasts?

Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
[ Parent ]
Not quite (none / 0) (#116)
by fsh on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 01:35:09 AM EST

I prefer to think that there's a middle ground. I disagree, basically, with the assumption that one job is necessarily better than another. ...people who aspire to be something more (with whatever elitist connotations you want to attach to that)... The contention is with the 'more'. The jobs you mention aren't more, they're just different. Some people are driven to change the world, but many people just want a nice quiet family life. "May you live in interesting times", remember, is an old curse. Any job can have it's positives (& negatives), and the fact is that the average person landed their specific career largely by chance (a chance introduction, a chance college course being full, a relative being in a position of power). The majority of people I've ever talked to have some sort of crazy story about how they ended up where they were. Of course, if the child is interested in the stars, point them to astrophysics. If the child is easily capable of assembling friends into a cohesive team, then set them on the path to leadership. But in no way should one instill the idea that there is one good path; to not make that path is to lose the game of life.

I can't see how this could promote intellectual stagnation. Anyone with an interest in learning could easily ask for more learning or simply teach themselves. A good class on internet surfing and internet safety would be a very easy and very useful quick class. That would enable the children to find information on what they wanted, if they couldn't get that information from other sources.
-fsh
[ Parent ]

I think we agree (5.00 / 1) (#118)
by flieghund on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 02:39:54 AM EST

Mostly, anyway. But I get really, really nervous when people start saying things like "anyone with an interest in learning could easily ask for more learning or simply teach themselves." I recall "asking for more learning" in the fifth grade because the math textbook we were using was the same one I had gone through the previous year (at a different school). It took two months (or a quarter of the school year) of my parents fighting on my behalf to get me put in an accelerated math program. Fortunately I was blessed with two amazing parents who took an active interest in keeping me intellectually stimulated; I am the only person I know who grew up with parents like that. I don't mean that my friends' parents were lazy people who didn't love their kids -- only that they saw nothing wrong with the "default" education, despite the fact that their child had a lot more potential (IMHO). My mother single-handedly taught a friend of mine to read in the first grade because, either through intent or ignorance, his parents didn't care... And none of this even begins to address the anti-intellectual mindset of (at least American) society today -- as Malcom (of "in the Middle" fame) said, "being smart is exactly like being radioactive."

Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
[ Parent ]

Nobody aspires to be a fast food manager (none / 0) (#115)
by bjrubble on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 01:24:55 AM EST

As people become adults, they almost always find that their childhood dreams will not come to pass. This can be hard to take, but I refuse to believe that the solution is to kill those dreams before they start.

[ Parent ]
Might as well learn to read (none / 0) (#91)
by MmmmJoel on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 05:58:19 PM EST

If your goal in education is to teach only the minimum amount you deem absolutely necessary.....
I'll stop there. My thesis may be a stretch, but when did these words come out of my mouth?

[ Parent ]
Thought it was here (none / 0) (#114)
by bjrubble on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 01:14:28 AM EST

"[Grammar] shouldn't be taught beyond what is necessary for comprehension."

Okay, that was your paraphrase of the article, but you didn't seem to be disagreeing with it.

[ Parent ]
Where? (none / 0) (#147)
by MmmmJoel on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 10:54:33 PM EST

Okay, that was your paraphrase of the article, but you didn't seem to be disagreeing with it.
If I don't explicitly state that I disagree with a particular thesis, it doesn't imply that I endorse it. My goals of history in education don't have to be the same as my goals of grammar in education.

[ Parent ]
Whose Comprehension? (3.00 / 3) (#85)
by eskimo on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 04:25:48 PM EST

The real question then, is whose comprehension we are talking about? If we want to ensure society becomes fractured beyond repair, then I wholly agree that every cultural subset should embrace their own dialect. Moreso, they should teach it that way.

But until there are Ebonics or Southern Dialect textbooks, how am I supposed to be anything but a 'yankee,' or 'whitey?' Of course people in East L.A. might speak differently from people in Detroit, and West Virginia is different from Georgia. So we're going to need a lot of different textbooks. Or we can just use ONE.

And for the record, as far as I am concerned, Perfect English is purely theoretical. Additions of words and constructs change the language almost daily. The English language is evolving just fine. Just because it still doesn't condone double negatives doesn't mean it is demeaning to anybody.

I am my own home. - Banana Yoshimoto
[ Parent ]

Funniest Comment Ever (5.00 / 1) (#90)
by MmmmJoel on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 05:51:39 PM EST

This whole post is going to be in italics because I am not going to close the tag. It is inconvenient, and I am not going to succumb to the man's demand that I close tags. I am subverting the system, and especially 'whitey.'
Recall that I'm not opposed to rules that make comments easier to read or that eases clarification. The rules that say I have to conform to a certain vocabulary and that your son's English paper will be marked wrong if he uses a prepositional phrase at the end of a sentence.
I also love how suddenly I have to have a scarlet 'whom' embroidered on my clothes. Am I a racist because I use the word 'whom?' This is the most trollish statement of all.
No, you aren't a racist if you use the word 'whom!' It would be a trollish statement if I indeed declared that statement, but I never claimed anything of the sort. Instead, I claim that if I use the word 'whom' or 'ain't' or 'y'all' that I shouldn't be taken any less seriously than the person who uses 'whom,' 'are not,' or 'you gentleman' just as anyone else shouldn't develop quick judgements about someone who uses the word 'whom.'
To look at language as anything but code is foolish.
Did Shakespeare write in code? How about Chris Rock? e e cummings? What about Tupac? Are they foolish for not writing in the standard code?
Is there even an ebonics textbook? I'll read it, just point me in the right direction.
How about The Old Fat White Guy's Guide To Ebonics? ;-)

[ Parent ]
Art vs. Commerce (none / 0) (#111)
by eskimo on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 12:19:51 AM EST

Your piece is not about art. It is not about Shakespeare, or e e cummings, or even Chris Rock or Tupac. Your piece is about Joe Blow, and me judging him harshly because he has an accent. Your examples, from janitors to convenience store cashiers, bear this out. I don't think anybody looks down on Chaucer because he speaks differently than they do. Of course Chaucer has some sort of intrinsic value. Same goes for Chris Rock, and even Tupac.

You are arguing apples and oranges. Your piece is about people making it through their day without being judged. Elevating Chris Rock or Shakespeare or Tupac almost perfectly DISPROVES your point, because their messages are universal. Would you think I was weird if I started speaking Old English? What about if I just wrote Old English? Like if I said 'olde?' 'Shoppe?'

I am my own home. - Banana Yoshimoto
[ Parent ]

Agreed (none / 0) (#141)
by nuntius on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 10:08:22 PM EST

# Another thing which bothers me is people who think
// I need to comment my code. Commenting is a complete
/* waste of time. I mean, hey, any decent coder should just let the code speak for itself. Why should I adhere to a protocol such as indenting lines*/
% or using standard commenting styles just for someone else?
REM Who needs standardization anyway?
'(I surely don\'t)
; Do you?

[ Parent ]
when with friends (4.66 / 3) (#71)
by bakednotfried on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 02:59:36 PM EST

First off, nice well written piece.

As I read this, my head kept nodding in agreement. I'm one of those folks who's pretty irreverant when it comes to this kind of stuff. After all, who can disagree that someone reminding you that "ain't" isn't in the dictionary while drinking beer and watching television is a little absurd. However, there are times when saying what you mean and meaning what you say are important. I guess for me, it all comes down to context and intent. (doesn't everything?)

What I mean by that is there are times when one wants to be precise about what one is saying, and times when language is more for social interaction than the precise conveyance of ideas. I can think of two examples.

When I was in college, I had a wonderful math professor--Ed Parker, who insisted on precise use of language. The first day of class each semester was devoted to discussing our undefined terms, axioms and such. We were then allowed to make definitions based on these agreed upon beginnings. From there, we were able to communicate very complicated ideas that otherwise would have been impossible. Without precise language, there can be no study of mathematics.

Another example hits a bit closer to home for some of us. Let's say you're working with a customer on a web site and your customer says to you "when I call up the web page...". Now, my ol' teacher Ed Parker had a phrase for distinguishing between times for using precise language and other times. He called it being amongst friends (or not). In my example we currently have no idea what is meant by "call up the web page". I can think of a couple possibilities here. Do they mean when they connect to their ISP? Do they mean when they try to load a web page in a browser? Are they maybe having DNS problems? What is it they are trying to convey? Let's say that in my example they mean "when I attempt to load the web page in my browser". Well, we now have two ways to communicate this notion. One, we can use when we are amongst friends--folks who are privy to our defintion of "call up the web page". But, for times when we are not amongst friends, we need to be precise and say "when I try to load the web page in the browser".

When amongst friends it is entirely appropriate to use slang, unofficial, even lazy forms of language, while at other times specific language is more appropriate.

have a day,
mike


-- once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right

Proper English != Precision (none / 0) (#96)
by MmmmJoel on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 06:21:04 PM EST

What I mean by that is there are times when one wants to be precise about what one is saying, and times when language is more for social interaction than the precise conveyance of ideas. I can think of two examples.
There are most certainly time when language must be very precise and clear to illustrate points and your two examples show that very well. Math is certainly one field that doesn't allow room for half-assed explanations. Philosophy is another. However, I can arrive at a statement that is just as precise using another dialect. The word "ain't" never has an ambiguous meaning. Don't associate precision with proper English. Other diaclects and languages other than English may even be better at explaining things than proper English.

[ Parent ]
"Proper" == Precision, for some def of & (none / 0) (#105)
by DesiredUsername on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 08:18:42 PM EST

There are at least two meaning of proper that are being confused in this discussion. The first is "conforming to prescriptive rules". Clearly, "proper" English in this sense is not equivalent to precise English.

However, "proper" can also mean "conforming to a protocol". And HERE is what the OP was talking about. If you tell a mathematician that "I gave those both those guys cats" you've left a lot of possible meaning wide open. How many cats? Joint ownership? Etc. But if you use technical language "For each guy, I gave that guy one cat" or even the less formal "I gave EACH of those guys A cat" you are being more precise.

Both examples are examples of "proper" (prescriptive) English but only the second is an example of "proper" (protocol) English.

Examples in everyday life abound. A person requiring tech support will come up to me and say "When I send an email, it says destination host unknown." But tech support is a field where precision matters and thus there is a protocol. This sentence violates that protocol by using the pronoun "it" without an antecedent. Therefore this is not a "proper" (conforming to protocol) sentence. I generally halt the question at that point and point out the need for precision (although I don't word it as above--I'd sound like Spock). Then I ask who or what "it" is and how did it say anything?

Also note: The protocols mentioned (mathematical jargon, tech support questions) are prescriptive grammars that make life better (in the long run, anyway--the person asking the question might temporarily feel like a dolt). This is another counter-example to the main thesis that "proper" English instruction is evil.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
genre vs. prescriptive grammar (none / 0) (#112)
by Estanislao Martínez on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 12:45:00 AM EST

Also note: The protocols mentioned (mathematical jargon, tech support questions) are prescriptive grammars that make life better

Not quite; mathemathese is a genre with its own special conventions, which mathematicians must learn by reading tons of papers; tech support questions I suspect is just a matter of acquiring as much information as needed about the problem, something experienced people will learn to do spontaneously. "Prescriptive grammar", as defined by linguists, are the infamous thou shalt nots of grammar books-- rules prohibiting certain kinds of common language usage.

Mathemathese is very interesting-- essentially, it consists of using English to mirror the kind of argumentation typically done in formal logic. Thus, for example, conditionals are interpreted as the material conditional of propositional logic, and disjunctions get the inclusive reading, contrary to ordinary conversations. A lot of assumptions about logic which come hard to an ordinary person are always floating around-- for example, mathematicians will prove a conditional statement by proving its contrapositive without stopping to explain that they are doing so. Still, Mathemathese is not quite as terse as mathematical logic...

--em
[ Parent ]

obsolete rules? (4.50 / 2) (#75)
by Puchitao on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 03:16:22 PM EST

While the centuries-old grammarians who first attempted to codify their language still, of course, deserve our respect, I think it's finally time to throw off some of their strange rules. Linguistics has come along way since then; we've learned a lot more about how languages work. We don't, after all, teach Greek cosmogony any more, except for its historical interest. Nor do we teach how to conjugate verbs for "thou".

There's a reason everyone messes up sentences like "He passed a note to Joey and I." or "Where're you going to?" in ordinary speech. They're silly rules; in our "mental vocabulary"--or whatever you want to call it--"Joey and I" and "going to" are single ideas, but in proper English you have to split them up, change their case independently, or whatever. (Hell, technically I don't remember exactly why people always mess these up; if anyone's taken a linguistics class more recently than I have, chime in.) Think about the grammatical mistakes that kids make. They're not cute and/or funny because they're stupid mistakes. They're such because they're pretty smart mistakes. They're usually the result of applying grammatical rules too strictly -- that is, over the irregular cases -- rather than too loosely.

It's a shame that academic study of BAV (or Ebonics, or whatever they're calling it now) has been so mired in politics and media slant. It's no less grammatical than the King's English; some things are expressible in BAV that are very difficult to express in K's E. For example, there's a tense difference between "He goin" and "He be goin" that isn't in K's E; if I remembered my high-school Spanish I could say what it was.

I don't, however, think there's a conspiracy against "common English" in the schools. (One of my professors, a prominent British logician, was almost gleeful when he discovered that, in American slang a la Wayne's World, you can negate a sentence by appending "...not!" to it. ;) English teachers spend their whole lives studying English; they've probably realized that real English is how English is really spoken and that certain rules of proper english are needless obfuscations.

But the job of high-school English teachers isn't to teach you how to talk to your peers. You already know how to do that. In fact, they always got pissed off when I attempted that during their classes. ;) Their job is to get you high standardized test scores and get you into college. Why? 'Cuz it raises the schools rankings and gets them more money. Why do colleges care? I dunno. Probably because academic culture has a dialect like any other -- to wit, the King's, and the more pretensious the better! -- and they like to be around folks that speak like that, too.

And, to flout the biggest high-school essay-writing rule drummed in to me, I leave this rant without any conclusion.

Puchitao
Perhaps we can do *snappy fun* with you everytime! -- Orz
"Habitual aspect" (none / 0) (#77)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 03:40:19 PM EST

For example, there's a tense difference between "He goin" and "He be goin" that isn't in K's E; if I remembered my high-school Spanish I could say what it was.

Eh... how would remembering your Spanish help? ;)

Anyway, the difference is that "be" expressed so-called "habitual aspect" (which, properly speaking, is not tense). Habitual aspect means that the clause talks about some activity that is done repeatedly as a habit, or some state that holds most of the time. "He be goin'" means, more or less, "He goes all the time".

Bonus point: Can you now tell what "You makin' sense, but you don't be makin' sense" means? (It is a very subtle shade of meaning...)

--em
[ Parent ]

Why Spanish classes help (4.50 / 2) (#87)
by fsh on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 05:10:44 PM EST

Most people don't truly *get* prescriptive grammar until they are taught it for a different language. I always thought grammar sucked until I took Latin in High School. Now the grammar lessons made sense, as they were applied to a different language. I assume that's what he meant. I never really understood grammar until it was laid out in the context of another language. This is another reason I think extensive prescriptive grammar is unnecessary for grade school. It's useful when learning another language, as it helps with the translations to know what feature of one language corresponds to another.


-fsh
[ Parent ]

Spanish (none / 0) (#153)
by guinsu on Tue Feb 27, 2001 at 04:32:08 PM EST

I think what he meant with spanish is that when you learn a foreign language, they teach a lot of tenses that never seemed to come up in English class. Or he could be remembering that Spanish had two verbs for "to be", 'ser' and 'estar', though I forget exactly when you were supposed to use them since we just squish those two ideas together most of the time in English.

[ Parent ]
i get it now... (none / 0) (#154)
by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Feb 27, 2001 at 09:02:08 PM EST

I think what he meant with spanish is that when you learn a foreign language, they teach a lot of tenses that never seemed to come up in English class.

Yeah, I finally got it from reading these two posts. I've experience the same thing, only with French helping me name Spanish tenses ;).

Or he could be remembering that Spanish had two verbs for "to be", 'ser' and 'estar', though I forget exactly when you were supposed to use them since we just squish those two ideas together most of the time in English.

Actually, it's 3 verbs for "to be": 'ser', 'estar', and 'haber' ("There are 5 cats in the box" == "Hay 5 gatos en la caja"), though that use of "haber" doesn't cause the huge trouble that "ser/estar" do for foreign speakers...

--em
[ Parent ]

e e cummings (2.00 / 1) (#76)
by fsh on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 03:25:28 PM EST

Just wanted to throw out a few examples of how grammar & punctuation != precision in speaking.

e e cummings was the most prominant, but there were several other poets and authors who took the idea of prescriptive grammar and turned it on its head.

Prescriptive grammar is also a very recent human innovation. Look at Ancient Latin & Greek, for instance, or any other language that was first written in stone. No punctuation, very little grammatical structure (more precisely, the grammatical structure was encoded into the endings on the nouns & verbs). This is also true of the pictographic languages.

Or even look at Shakespeare. While there weren't offical prescriptive grammar or spelling back then, he still comes across loud and clear.


-fsh

e e cummings (none / 0) (#124)
by wiredog on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 08:30:32 AM EST

But he also clearly demonstrates that you have to know the rules before you break them.

The idea of a global village is wrong, it's more like a gazillion pub bars.
Phage
[ Parent ]

ee cummings was not prominant (none / 0) (#125)
by TheHornedOne on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 11:35:26 AM EST

he was prominent

[ Parent ]
Spelling - erg (none / 0) (#128)
by fsh on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 12:30:51 PM EST

Yes, well, I also have a pinched nerve in my hand, so that my ring finger and pinky have been tingling, as if they'd been asleep, for going on three days now. While I do typically notice my spelling mistakes, it's been a bit of chore lately to correct them. In any case, it seems you've been quite able to clearly understand my statement despite the ambiguity, although I do apologize for making you go the extra step. ;) Or, if you're British, I apologise.


-fsh
[ Parent ]

Winston Churchill's Take: (4.50 / 4) (#97)
by fsh on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 06:32:31 PM EST

Here's what the famous Winston Churchill has to say on the matter.
After receiving a Minute issued by a priggish civil servant, objecting to the ending of a sentence with a preposition and the use of a dangling participle in official documents, Churchill red pencilled in the margin:
This is the sort of pedantry up with which I will not put.
Heh heh. He was a feisty one, that Churchill. Pulled that quote from this site:
Famous Quotes & Stories of Winston Churchill

Speaking of Churchill Quotes, here's my favorite one. Not sure of the accuracy (or even the veracity), as I can't find the source: The subject of prostitution had come up at a dinner party. Churchill asked a lady sitting nearby if she would have sex with him for one million pounds. The lady replied that she probably would. Churchill then asked her if she would do the same for ten pence. The lady replied, "Why, sir! What sort of woman do you think I am?" Churchill replied, "We've already established that. Now we're trying to settle on a price."


-fsh

Why I love this story. (4.33 / 3) (#134)
by sparkles on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 04:05:35 PM EST

I love that Churchill story because it's a perfect illustration of what is wrong with prescriptive grammars.

The phrase 'put up with' does not contain a preposition. It's a verbal phrase, making each component of the phrase a verb particle.

The reason I love this story is that it illustrates beautifully and ironically the problem: People talk about grammar all the time, but almost nobody understands it.

See, grammar is not a set of rules that an English teacher can explain to you. Grammar is the one of the most complex systems in existence. There are grammatical rules, but nobody could consciously memorize enough of them to be of any practical use. Human beings use them instinctively, though, so we use grammar the same way we use other complex systems such as our respiratory system. We just do it. Yes, there are times when we have to regulate our speech in order to control how we say something, just as we sometimes need to regulate our breathing to avoid hyperventilating.

In order to make rules prescribing or proscribing the way someone else uses language, you must first assume that one party somehow 'owns' the language more than another. The common assumption is that the wealthy white people are in charge of the language, and that everyone else is wrong.

I guess I just don't understand why anyone would be so danged PROUD for remembering what is, essentially, a series of oversimplified rules used to introduce small children to some very complex concepts. It's like memorizing that "One and one are two, two and two are four.." song. It's weird.

[ Parent ]
particle verbs... (none / 0) (#157)
by Estanislao Martínez on Wed Feb 28, 2001 at 01:01:13 AM EST

The phrase 'put up with' does not contain a preposition. It's a verbal phrase, making each component of the phrase a verb particle.

I would disagree here, although you're certainly on the right track.

First of all, "with" is doubtless a preposition. Verb phrases contain prepositional phrases all the time ("bought the book for Mary on May 23rd at the university bookstore"). But I guess you must be talking about "up".

Linguists disagree on whether the "up" that occurs in "put up" is a preposition or not, some preferring to call it a "verbal particle". Some (me included) think it makes perfect sense to call it a preposition, since all the words that occur in English so-called "particle verbs" ("look up", "let down", "give up", and tons more) are also prepositions, though being put to a use different than the typical one.

In any case, the fundamental properties of this construction is that the meaning of the verb-particle aggregate is typically idiosyncratic, and not easily predictable from the verb and preposition (if at all).

--em
[ Parent ]

The Language Instinct (4.00 / 1) (#98)
by cooldev on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 06:33:48 PM EST

Chapter 12 of The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker pretty amusing. He launches a rather brutal attack against "Language Mavens"... Whether you agree with Pinker or not it's a fun read.



You can read it here! (4.00 / 1) (#100)
by cooldev on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 06:38:05 PM EST

Not that I enjoy responding to myself, but a quick search turned up the entire chapter here!



[ Parent ]
Excellent read! (5.00 / 1) (#102)
by fsh on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 07:15:08 PM EST

This is amazing; it's the exact thing we're discussing now. Here's an illuminating quote:
But once introduced, a prescriptive rule is very hard to eradicate, no matter how ridiculous. Inside the educational and writing establishments, the rules survive by the same dynamic that perpetuates ritual genital mutilations and college fraternity hazing: I had to go through it and am none the worse, so why should you have it any easier? Anyone daring to overturn a rule by example must always worry that readers will think he or she is ignorant of the rule, rather than challenging it. (I confess that this has deterred me from splitting some splitworthy infinitives.) Perhaps most importantly, since prepscriptive rules are so psychologically unnatural that only those with access to the right schooling can abide by them, they serve as shibboleths, differentiating the elite from the rabble.

-fsh
[ Parent ]
Let's not get carried away (4.50 / 2) (#104)
by DesiredUsername on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 08:04:50 PM EST

"Teaching prescriptive grammar and proper English in schools and learning centers beyond what is necessary for understanding is damaging to society's racial, ethnic, and cultural relations and implants a superiority complex in the minds of the dominant class."

Having just finished (this morning) my third(!) reading of "The Language Instinct" I know exactly the point you are trying to make--but you are still wrong.

First, you ignore any GOOD effects of prescriptive grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. For instance, standardization. Without standardization, there can be no widespread literacy. Consider the problems if we divided the country into three areas: Boston, The South and Everyone Else. Each area goes it's own way entirely. In about 20 years a child will have to be trilingual just to visit Disneyland.

But more importantly, you overestimate the ill effects. Yes, people make fun of the way other people talk, write, etc. But is this a cause or an effect? Do whites hate blacks because they "talk funny"? Or do they just say "they talk funny" because the hatred is already in place?

Easy: think back 100, 500, 1000, 100,000 years--before systematic teaching of grammars. Did war exist? Did the upper class look down upon the lower? Where there racial animosities. Duh!

I should note, btw, that Pinker (in TLI) doesn't argue as above that prescriptive grammars are bad. He just goes after the "mavens" who deride people based on perceived language errors.

Play 囲碁
The ill effects... (none / 0) (#106)
by MmmmJoel on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 09:46:56 PM EST

I just finished reading Chapter 12 of TLI, and enjoyed it thoroughly. And I thought I was being fairly original! He did a much better job at clarifying some of the issues I attempted to point out and covered more bases.
Having just finished (this morning) my third(!) reading of "The Language Instinct" I know exactly the point you are trying to make--but you are still wrong.
Instead of wrong, how about close but not quite? :-) It seems you agree with Pinker yet Pinker and I raise a lot of similar points.
But more importantly, you overestimate the ill effects. Yes, people make fun of the way other people talk, write, etc. But is this a cause or an effect? Do whites hate blacks because they "talk funny"? Or do they just say "they talk funny" because the hatred is already in place?
Here is one point we disagree on. A 60-year old white guy is probably laughing at a black man for sounding funny because his biases already exist, but for his grandson standing next to him, this mocking could easily contribute to the cause.

[ Parent ]
"contribute" is a much lesser claim (none / 0) (#123)
by DesiredUsername on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 08:24:24 AM EST

"It seems you agree with Pinker yet Pinker and I raise a lot of similar points."

Yes, but only on the "left side" of your argument. You and he both indicate that much of English prescriptive grammar is overemphasized (although he doesn't say we should drop it entirely, btw). But only you are claiming that it causes tidal waves and global warming.

"A 60-year old white guy is probably laughing at a black man for sounding funny because his biases already exist, but for his grandson standing next to him, this mocking could easily contribute to the cause."

In the absence of any other input, though, I doubt the grandson would end up hating blacks. For instance, a lot of people make fun of the Canadian accent, but we don't also beat them, discriminate against them, etc. And what is our end attitude? "They talk funny, but otherwise they are normal." (Same argument applies to Boston, Minnesota, etc)

I suppose it's true that if all existing racists could magically be taught that BEV (Black English Vernacular) is a rule-conforming dialect there might be marginally less hatred in the world. But beyond that I don't think we can go.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Counterpoint (3.00 / 1) (#109)
by slakhead on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 11:57:38 PM EST

First of all, have you ever seen the movie/play "My Fair Lady?" Very well done although a little longish but it has a point and an overall theme. That theme is that refinement only goes as far as your language. Prof. Henry Higgins is an expert on the subject of English and he uses the example of a worker in the street, who in a response to one of the professor's questions says:

"What do you tike me for, a fool?"

"No one ever taught him 'take' instead of 'tike'," Henry notes.

The bottom line is that proper English is a sign of being educated. People who know better than to say "to anyone whom knows better" will immediately recognize your level of education and base their opinion of you on their first impressions. Proper English is also important from a communication standpoint. You mention proper English as an evil of society propagated by the school system to split up our country into the snobby white people and the uneducated minorities. What about proper Spanish though? English isn't the only language that requires specific nuances to be spoken correctly. If you go to a Spanish speaking country with only a basic understanding of the language you might be able to communicate on the most basic level but you are all the more respected for knowing how to speak their language properly. It isn't just pedantics. If you stop learning a language just when you can understand what your friends are saying, you miss out on all the nuances that make language powerful. In a foreign language, stopping at that point makes you sound like an infant when you try to communicate complex ideas in your basic "working" format. That may be acceptable for hanging out with your friends, drinking beer, and watching football, but in the world of global communications the last thing you want to do is jeopardize your position because you don't know how to express yourself. That stands true for ANY language.

Finally, I would like to make a comment about the "white kids never getting insulted or beat up" remark. Have you ever heard the term "wigger" before? It is certainly not a term of endearance and if you haven't heard it before, it is slang for a white man trying to act black. I know at my school they were (and probably are still) lambasted and made the subject of many jokes just because they were trying to act black and people think less of them for it. Also, accents are not looked down upon if the words that are accented are spoken/written properly. For instance, a college is not less likely to accept you if you have an accent, but if you cannot spell "accent" or you cannot use it in a sentence properly they will be less likely to accept you. That isn't a racial issue, simply an issue of getting the best students. If you don't mind being ranked below someone who knows better than to end a sentence with a preposition that is OK but you will probably just end up without the job, scholarship, or acceptance for which you are applying.

Ending sentences with prepositions (4.00 / 1) (#132)
by KnightStalker on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 01:33:45 PM EST

I'm not sure what Strunk & White or the Chicago Manual of Style say about it, but I think the "rule" against ending sentences with prepositions should be abandoned in cases where the meaning is clear. There's no reason for human languages to be shoehorned into an too-restrictive standard. They exist to express ideas in a way that's clear to those fluent in the language, and ending a sentence with a preposition is often the least awkward way to express an idea -- Churchill said it best with "[ending sentences with prepositions] is something up with which we should not put."

[ Parent ]
whoops (none / 0) (#133)
by KnightStalker on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 01:52:20 PM EST

Speaking of standards that are too restrictive....

s/ an ([^aeiouh])/ a \1/g



[ Parent ]
"cases where the meaning is clear"? (none / 0) (#151)
by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Feb 27, 2001 at 03:27:19 PM EST

I'm not sure what Strunk & White or the Chicago Manual of Style say about it, but I think the "rule" against ending sentences with prepositions should be abandoned in cases where the meaning is clear.

And what would be a case of "unclear" preposition stranding?

--em
[ Parent ]

You got me (none / 0) (#164)
by KnightStalker on Mon Mar 26, 2001 at 06:30:50 PM EST

I've been thinking about this since you posted your comment, and I can't come up with a damn thing. But I still suppose it's possible.

[ Parent ]
Found one (none / 0) (#166)
by KnightStalker on Mon Nov 04, 2002 at 03:18:11 PM EST

Scene: 3-year old kid waits in his bed for Dad to bring a book and read a story. He, being 3, always wants the same one. Dad, being 30, brings another one.
Kid: ``What did you bring the book I didn't want to be read to out of up for?''
found here.



[ Parent ]

Stop whining (2.28 / 7) (#121)
by PenguinWrangler on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 05:31:22 AM EST

"Ooooh! Learning correct English grammar is too hard! I don't wanna!"
"Information wants to be paid"
Am I the one whining? (none / 0) (#137)
by MmmmJoel on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 07:46:34 PM EST

I don't find English grammar hard at all. Contrary to your insult, I actually believe the English rules are much to simple and fail to encapsulate the overwhelming complexity of language. That's why many of these rules should be ignored. They are nothing but wrong descriptions of a well-developed language.

[ Parent ]
I have to. (none / 0) (#142)
by Smiling Dragon on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 10:31:56 PM EST

I don't find English grammar hard at all...
... I actually believe the English rules are much to simple ...
<Raised eyebrow> Such an unfortunate time to make an error, you have to laugh.
:)

-- Sometimes understanding is the booby prize - Neal Stephenson
[ Parent ]
Doh! (none / 0) (#145)
by MmmmJoel on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 10:48:42 PM EST

Out of all the responses not to proofread... :)

[ Parent ]
what? (none / 0) (#122)
by daevt on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 07:58:50 AM EST

im sorry, you need to think this through a little more, by only teaching the min grammer needed we get generations of people who can't speak their own language. this is the same as saying programs should only do what they need to do in order to operate and should pay no attention to standards, sure the program may work, by as it continues to grow it will be harder and harder to maintain and other programs will not be able to interact with out whole new chunks of code, which all could be avoided by following the standard. there is one case (which i could find if i wanted too) of a southern dialect that became so radically different from standard english that it was deemed a new language, mostly because english speaking people so close as the next town over could not understand it. if we don't try to force the english standards on our children, then why should we force any standards on them, spanish, mathimatics, history, legal, social, moral, why have laws and a functioning community when we can take the easy way out with anarchy and purpetuate ever more so the stupidity of our youth.
yo
Peter McWilliams (1.50 / 2) (#129)
by jabber on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 12:52:57 PM EST

Peter McWilliams died a few months ago. That in itself is unfortunate, but the story behind his death is something worth knowing.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

English: Windows of Languages (3.00 / 1) (#136)
by hardburn on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 06:21:06 PM EST

I think English is the Windows of Languages: It's bloated, inconsistant, and everybody uses it.

To survive, a language must be very fluid, able to adapt to any change in the society using it. Placing numorous, inconsistant rules upon a language makes it very rigid. Languages die this way.

If you think that English is saved just because it's widespread, just look at Latin. ~500 years ago, all of educated europe used it. ~2000 years ago, all of the western globe used it. Now it's practicly dead.

The purpase of a language is to communicate your ideas to someone else. Any rule of the language should therefore move twards that goal. If any rule gets in the way of this purpase, break it. Flagrantly.

As for spellings, English majors need to read more Shakespeare in its pure form. Shakespeare had 5 diffrent ways of spelling his own name. The rules of English were much less constricting at the time. I don't think it's too much of a streach to say that English was, in many ways, at its peak at that time because of (not in spite of) its very relaxed rules (or at the very least, relaxed rules helped to some degree).

In Spainish, I am told that there are 12 rules for conjegation. They are no exceptions. English has at least twice that number, with lots and lots of exceptions.

This is not to say that English is all bad. It is the result of combining several diffrent languages in one, which gives it both the horrifiying rules but also an extremely rich vocabulary. There are about twice as many words in English then in most other languages. This means that there are a lot of near-synonyms that you can use to describe something, but with slightly diffrent meaning. For instance, when you normaly eat it, you might call it "turkey", but that just won't go over well at a fine dinner table. When having an elaborate meal, one eats "foul".


----
while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }


foul? (none / 0) (#138)
by janra on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 08:00:05 PM EST

For instance, when you normaly eat it, you might call it "turkey", but that just won't go over well at a fine dinner table. When having an elaborate meal, one eats "foul".

I certainly hope not! However, 'fowl' is quite delicious.

:-)


--
Discuss the art and craft of writing
That's the problem with world domination... Nobody is willing to wait for it anymore, work slowly towards it, drink more and enjoy the ride more.
[ Parent ]
Prescriptive Grammar (4.33 / 3) (#139)
by Dink Meeker on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 08:04:31 PM EST

In a linguistic sense, what you are describing is not prescriptive grammar, although it is related. (IMNSHO, prescriptive grammar IS evil.) Way back in the 17th and 18th centuries when the first grammaticians were inventing the rules for the King's English, they wanted to "elevate" English to be a more "elegant" language. English was a rather "common" language, and not as "sophisticated" as French or Latin. (You could say it was the Ebonics of the day.) As a result, it was decided that English should be like Latin, despite the fact that it was nothing like it (aside from a few root similarities, but we're talking about grammar constructions). They kludged together proscribed rules of grammar that no one had ever actually used before then to make English Latin-compatible, if you will. Of course, the only people they told their changes to were educated people, and even then many of the "correct" rules weren't followed, simply because it was too difficult to remember and to awkward to construct since English is (surprisingly enough) *not* Latin. Still enough caught on (i.e. was beaten into schoolchildren for generations) to still appear in the grammar books today. They basically serve as an excuse for grammar nazis to throw a hissy fit. This, along with heavy influences from Scandinavian and French, is one of the reasons why English grammar rules (and spelling!) are such a mess.

Here's an example, although I apologize for not remembering the grammatical term for this: one of the following phrases is technically incorrect, although maybe one person in a hundred even knows the rule (much less always remembers to use it). See if you know which one.

A) to run quickly
B) to quickly run

If you said "B", then you earn the gold star and the right to proclaim your superiority by correcting grammar mistakes on K5, or /.

What makes this different from other mistakes that people frequently make? There is at least a reason for the difference between who and whom. The underlying reason for the above case is because in Latin (as in many other languages) verbs like "to run" are one word. (Aside from the trendy phrases I don't know any Latin so feel free to feel superior to me if you do.) In Latin, it is impossible to cram an adverb between the "to" and "run" parts of the word, so it was wisely decided that doing so should be forbidden in English, even though generations of English speakers had used both constructions for centuries.

[There is a moral lesson that could be applied to computers here, but it eludes me]

Now this type of thing should really be a non-issue. Virtually NO ONE knows or consiously follows this rule (I'm speaking as an ignorant American here, your mileage, or kilometerage, may vary depending on your English-speaking country) yet every few years I run across someone (American) bitching about how English is being butchered by society's disregard of rules like this. The fact of the matter is that languages change. English is even more so, due partly to its design and partly to the fact the most English speakers today are decendant from the uneducated castoffs of Britan. Grammar rules should change with the language to reflect what is in usage. This is the point of view of most Linguists today, and you can find that some "uneducated" features of English are becoming recognized. Anyone who says that ain't ain't in the dictionary ain't never read the dictionary. If you're one of the ones who just mentally went 'Ah-ha!' when you saw my use of a double-negative, you are one of those people who should get a life.)

Now, at long last, we reach the issue you brough up of teaching a "standard" or "educated" English. This is more of an issue for society, rather than linguists or the English teachers. The whole Ebonics fiasco was an attempt at that. Linguists have recognized "Black English" as a dialect branch of American English for some time and some educators wanted to use the research done in the field to teach inner-city students more effectively, not because standard American English is "correct", but because it is a fact of life that it is a requirement to be taken seriously in society. The grossly underfunded inner-city schools did some creative political/semantic maneuvering to try to get some more money. (If 90% of their students speak "Ebonics", then they should get more ESL funding, right?) The education program was shot down in flames as an innocent bystander in a political drive-by shooting.

Future English teachers are currently being taught a more linguistic-based approach to grammar. Although they still believe in teaching a standard, that standard it is not as fixed as it was.

If you are currently suffering from a pain-in-the-ass English teacher (and I suspect that you have been exposed too much to them since you are under the false impression that your thesis MUST come at the end of the first paragraph) I've found that if you make it clear that you know you're breaking a rule and back it up with a good reason why you are breaking it, most teachers will not ding you for your "error" (although you may get lengthy counterarguments written back to you on your paper).


Dink

"The passive voice is to be avoided."-- quote from my High School English Grammar Book

"Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform, and don't kid yourself." --Frank Zappa
Split infinitive (3.00 / 1) (#144)
by esjewett on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 10:48:12 PM EST

Your example: "to quickly run" is a split infinitive. "to run" is an infinitive, "quickly" splits it. I don't know Latin either, but in Spanish, which I understand is very similar to Latin in construction, to run translates to correr (one word). The proper way to say to quickly run is: correr rapido, or "to run quickly."

Yeah, so rapido really means something more like "fast." It still works.


AIM: esjewettii


[ Parent ]
"To boldly go..." ;) (none / 0) (#152)
by Mr. Excitement on Tue Feb 27, 2001 at 04:10:29 PM EST

http://www.theindependent.com/Archive/111598/stories/111598/Opi_ayoub15.html

http://cbc.ca/news/indepth/words/infinitives.html

http://detnews.com/1998/nation/9811/06/11060152.htm

It looks as though the good folks at Oxford decided to finally change that rule. (And, yes, I was about to write "finally decided to change", and the new sentence does grate on the ears, but now it is possible to legally split infinitives. ;)

1 141900 Mr. Excitement-Bar-Hum-Mal-Cha died in The Gnomish Mines on level 10 [max 12]. Killed by a bolt of lightning - [129]
[ Parent ]

Another view (4.00 / 1) (#146)
by nuntius on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 10:50:33 PM EST

Weren't the public schools established to help promote an equal chance for all? I seem to remember one popular argument for desegregation was that it would allow minorities to mix with the children of higher-income families and gain many of the same experiences as they did...
In short: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

By not enforcing standards, are you
  1. Removing oppression?
  2. Removing the opportunity for success?
I'd tend to argue that not enforcing standards effectively deprives our youth of the opportunity to grow; growth does not come without stretching and even pain. Depending on what you value most in life, this sacrifice may be the key to future success; and you may later, having experienced the benefits of using proper English, even appreciate the dedication of your teachers to endure and, despite your frequent protests, pass on the knowledge which enabled your subsequent success.

In truth, the ability to form long strings of grammatically correct words together is not a proof of intelligence. However, when tied with clarity of thought, "proper" English can be an effective tool which forcefully delivers your message to those who appreciate it. According to your article, this includes most of the corporate and government worlds.

At the very least, a good training in grammar will simplify the task of reading through and parsing those obfuscated tax and other legal forms.

Hmmm, don't really see the big deal here.... (none / 0) (#150)
by Mantrid on Tue Feb 27, 2001 at 02:05:15 PM EST

...just take your minimum required English classes and get on with things. There are matters out there far more important (and interesting)...and of course we need to speak a common language to discuss them. Look at all the variations of English that we already have; it can be hard to understand someone from England at times, or Newfoundland...and this is with the basic rules in place that we currently use. So you want even less education or enforcement of the basics? We'd all have our own languages before too long. With globalisation and the Internet, do we want more dialects or less dialects? What about people who are trying to learn English, you want them to have even more variation to deal with? And as for grammatical rules, English is messy, but not the worst by far.

English Teachers are the Root of All Evil | 166 comments (161 topical, 5 editorial, 1 hidden)
Display: Sort:

kuro5hin.org

[XML]
All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest © 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
My heart's the long stairs.

Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!