1
   

Prescriptivism - peddling myths about language

 
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 07:51 pm
@JTT,
You're right, it's Garner. Thanks for the correction.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 07:55 pm
@JTT,
JTT wrote:
That's where Garner is right out to lunch. It's a comin'.

Please don't forget to cite a primary source of what Garner is actually saying. Frankly, my current working hypothesis is that you are bashing strawmen rather than demolishing actual prescriptivist linguists.
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 09:11 pm
@Thomas,
Quote:
Please don't forget to cite a primary source of what Garner is actually saying.


I do have a name, Thomas.

I'd say that that falls upon you. You are the one in possession of the Modern American ..., are you not? You tell us what Garner is actually saying, Thomas.

Quote:
Frankly, my current working hypothesis is that you are bashing strawmen rather than demolishing actual prescriptivist linguists.


Don't worry about publishing your hypothesis. It won't last long enough for the ink to dry.
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 09:12 pm
Quote:
I understand "prescriptivism" to refer to the Chomsky (et al) view of "grammar" which rejected it with reference to spoken language. viz In essence there is no such thing as "correct" language, only "appropriate" language according to sociolinguistic context.


Hello, Fresco.

Not having Chomsky's or et al's specific ideas at hand, I must allow that that has a measure of truth in it.

Prescriptivism has been rejected for all sociolinguistic contexts/registers where the prescriptions don't accurately describe how language works. Where there is agreement between descriptivists and prescriptivists, then what we have is an accurate description of how language works.


Quote:
"Grammar" was considered to be descriptive of a native speaker's "competence". The idea of "prescriptive grammatical rules" basically arose from the teaching of classical languages such as Latin, when such methods were first applied to "the teaching of English"...a subject which had previously never been considered part of the curriculum prior to the 20th century.


Two fatal errors; one, making the false assumption that the rules of one language should guide the rules of another and two, making the equally false assumption that there is an ideal in grammar and this ideal can be figured out by a group of people providing uninformed opinions.

That's one of the very curious things about prescriptivists. Armed as they are with all these "rules", they never seem to be able to do any kind of real study of what language is, nor can they answer real questions about language.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 09:22 pm
@JTT,
JTT wrote:
I do have a name, Thomas.

How prescriptivist of you to suggest that I use it!

JTT wrote:
I'd say that that falls upon you. You are the one in possession of the Modern American ..., are you not? You tell us what Garner is actually saying, Thomas.

I disagree. You're the one who claims it's a myth. That makes it your job to support your opinion with adequate sources.
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 10:25 pm
@Thomas,
Quote:
How prescriptivist of you to suggest that I use it!


You don't understand what a prescriptivist is. Hopefully, we can remedy that.

Quote:
I disagree. You're the one who claims it's a myth. That makes it your job to support your opinion with adequate sources.


That would have already been done had I not lost the posting. In fact, it has already been done in this thread. Did you miss it?

But you're the one that introduced Garner to the mix. And all you gave is your opinion of what he says. We don't have to deal with all the issues. Let's start with his opinion on 'that/which'.

Why do you think it is that the CGEL devoted an entire chapter to relative clauses, some, I can't remember off the top of my head and my copy isn't with me, let's say 40 or 50 pages?

Why are you reluctant to quote the man? Shouldn't this man of grammar be able to clear things up, in what, did he manage a short paragraph or two on the topic?



JTT
 
  1  
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 10:26 pm
@Thomas,
Quote:
You're right, it's Garner. Thanks for the correction.


You're most welcome, Thomas.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  3  
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 10:38 pm
@JTT,
JTT wrote:
Prescriptivism has been rejected for all sociolinguistic contexts/registers where the prescriptions don't accurately describe how language works.

Or, in other words, prescriptivism is rejected when it isn't sufficiently descriptivist. That doesn't make any sense.

JTT wrote:
Where there is agreement between descriptivists and prescriptivists, then what we have is an accurate description of how language works.

Or, in other words, descriptivists are right when prescriptivists agree with them. That doesn't make any sense either.
Thomas
 
  3  
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 10:41 pm
@JTT,
JTT wrote:
But you're the one that introduced Garner to the mix.

Not true. You brought him up first, in your response to joefromchicago, in your list of myths that you suggest are commonly peddled.

JTT wrote:
And all you gave is your opinion of what he says.

Not true. I gave you summaries of actual entries, including the one on "that vs. which" you were asking about.

I have to say that your persistent strawman-bashing and personal innuendo is rapidly wearing out my interest in discussing with you. See you later -- or not.
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 11:04 pm
@joefromchicago,
Quote:
Writing is no more of an artificial construct than is speech. Indeed, the use of signs may predate the advent of speech. I can't see that the distinction between "artificial writing" and "natural speech" has any meaning.


Well actually it is, Joe. Children are not taught to speak but they have to be taught how to write. Speech, and the voluminous number of rules that support it, come naturally to children. Writing most definitely does not.

Spelling is in large measure, memorization. The rules of grammar are clearly not. How do we know this? Because the vast majority of people don't have, in a conscious fashion, the faintest idea what those rules are, yet you, they, we deploy them without a thought. An idea forms and the grammar flows seamlessly into place to express that idea.


Quote:
Prescriptive rules are useless without the much more fundamental rules that create the sentences to begin with. These rules are never mentioned in style manuals or school grammars because the authors correctly assume that anyone capable of reading the manuals must already have the rules.

No one, not even a valley girl, has to be told not to say [Apples the eat boy] or [Who did you meet John and?] or the vast, vast majority of the trillions of mathematically possible combinations of words.

So when a scientist considers all the high-tech mental machinery needed to arrange words into ordinary sentences, prescriptive rules are, at best, inconsequential little decorations. The very fact that they have to be drilled shows that they are alien to the natural workings of the language system. [/u]

One can choose to obsess over prescriptive rules, but they have no more to do with human language than the criteria for judging cats at a cat show have to do with mammalian biology.


The part I underlined and put in bold tells it all. Prescriptions have to be memorized. They are not part of the natural rules of English, the ones we all know, the ones we deploy minute by minute.

What's also so telling is that these prescriptions are ignored by people using language naturally.


More than a few fail to learn how to read and write, while all learn how to speak.

Quote:
In any event, what you're talking about isn't any kind of writing/speech dichotomy, it's grammar, which is also an artificial construct but which is something that is shared equally by written and spoken language.


As pointed out above, grammar is something that everyone learns and in many ways it's shared with writing though the rules are quite different for different levels within, let's call it the speech register, to contrast it with the newspaper, fiction, and academic registers.

Speech preceded the written form by a large margin and though there are language without a written form, there are no languages with a written form but no form of speech, save for dead languages.

Note in speech, that there are no periods, commas, question or exclamation marks, no colons, no semi-colons, no ... artificial constructs developed to, at least partially, to mimic pauses in speech.

Quote:
No, in speech we don't form singular possessives in two ways. We form them in only one way, by adding an "s" or "z" sound at the end of the word. In speech, therefore, the possessive of "Charles" is pronounced "Char-el-zez" (where the "e" sounds are schwas). There's no confusion, therefore, in speech. It is only in writing that we run into problems.


That's false, Joe.

James' book or James's book.

Charles' book or [how come you didn't write the possessive form?]

Regardless, in both cases, the former sounds more natural to me than the latter though I acknowledge that both exist.

Quote:
Again, the adding of "apostrophe s" to form a singular possessive in written language is no more or less artificial than adding an "ez" sound in spoken language. In both, the writer/speaker is simply adhering to a grammatical rule.


But it wasn't always so. The rules come from speech. They are mimicked in one form or another for writing and when the rules of speech change, the rules for writing adapt. It's always been so for speech far advanced writing in time and changes to language are for the most part generated in speech.

JTT
 
  1  
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 11:10 pm
@joefromchicago,
Quote:
Or, in other words, prescriptivism is rejected when it isn't sufficiently descriptivist. That doesn't make any sense.


Quote:
Or, in other words, descriptivists are right when prescriptivists agree with them. That doesn't make any sense either.


How do scientists discover things about any subject, about any living creature Joe?

JTT
 
  1  
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 11:21 pm
@Thomas,
Quote:
Not true. I gave you summaries of actual entries, including the one on "that vs. which" you were asking about.


Quote:
Garner (2003) notes that there are two schools on the matter: one that cares about the distinction on the matter, and that doesn't. He makes a snarky remark expressing his partisanship for the former, and proceeds to offer guidelines for those who wish to obey the distinction. Not much of a prescription here.


And you feel that your 'summary' gives an adequate overview of the grammatical issues, the language issues, Thomas? I hope that this isn't how you'd approach, ... no, I know that this isn't how you would approach any other issue.

Let me help you out. Do Garner's guidelines go something like this?

"... the relative pronoun 'that' is restrictive, which means it tells you a necessary piece of information about its antecedent: for example, "The word processor that is used most often is WordPerfect."

Here the that phrase answers an important question: which of the many word processors are we talking about? And the answer is the one that is used most often.

'Which' is non-restrictive: it does not limit the word it refers to. An example is "Penn's ID center, which is called CUPID, has been successful so far."

Here that is unnecessary: the which does not tell us which of Penn's many ID centers we're considering; it simply provides an extra piece of information about the plan we're already discussing. "Penn's ID Center" tells us all we really need to know to identify it."
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Mon 3 Aug, 2009 11:42 pm
@JTT,
Quote:
than demolishing actual prescriptivist linguists.


Odd that you should mention that, Thomas. I can't say that I know of any prescriptive linguists. If there are any, they sure are a silent lot.

Garner certainly isn't one, he isn't even a grammarian as his attempts in the CMoS illustrate.

Quote:
Prescriptive and descriptive linguistics: the language wars

The sci.lang FAQ does not equivocate:
3 Does linguistics tell people how to speak or write properly?
No. Linguistics is descriptive, not prescriptive.

As we'll see, linguistics can certainly be used prescriptively, and often is. However, modern linguists insist that value judgments about language should be recognized as such, and should be examined in the light of the facts.

[imagine that, using facts to describe a scientific endeavor]

As a result, some critics feel that linguists' attitudes stand in the way of the establishment and maintenance of language standards. You can find a sample of the debate in Geoff Nunberg's classic article Decline of Grammar , or Mark Halpern's more recent riposte A War That Never Ends .

Negotiating a truce

There are genuine differences of opinion about language policy. Linguistic analysis lets us state the issues clearly -- when this is done, people sometimes disagree less than they thought they did about "correctness" in English.
In particular, we can distinguish four types of "correctness":

Established criteria of educated written language
third-person singular /s/: "she goes," not "she go."
no double negatives: "he didn't see anybody," not "he didn't see nobody."
complete sentences

Issues on which educated people differ (and which may be different in written and spoken forms):
"who/whom did you see"
"Winston tastes good like/as a cigarette should"
"the data is/are unreliable"
"I disapprove of him/his doing it"
"get it done as quick/quickly as possible"
"hopefully, she'll be there on time"

Changes in the spoken language that some people resist:
"between you and I"
"me and Harry went downtown"
"was" for "said"

Pure inventions of self-appointed grammarians with no basis in actual usage:
prohibition of dangling prepositions
"I shall" vs. "you will"
"It is I"
prohibition of split infinitives

http://www.ling.upenn.edu/courses/Fall_1998/ling001/prescription.html



0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Aug, 2009 01:08 am
@JTT,
JTT wrote:
Let me help you out. Do Garner's guidelines go something like this?

If you wish to follow the distinction between that and which, then this is pretty much the way to follow it according to Garner, yes. Mind the "if", however.
joefromchicago
 
  3  
Reply Tue 4 Aug, 2009 08:19 am
@JTT,
JTT wrote:
Well actually it is, Joe. Children are not taught to speak but they have to be taught how to write. Speech, and the voluminous number of rules that support it, come naturally to children. Writing most definitely does not.

You must be joking. Do you seriously believe that children don't have to be taught how to speak? Are you familiar with any feral children by any chance?

JTT wrote:
Spelling is in large measure, memorization. The rules of grammar are clearly not. How do we know this? Because the vast majority of people don't have, in a conscious fashion, the faintest idea what those rules are, yet you, they, we deploy them without a thought. An idea forms and the grammar flows seamlessly into place to express that idea.

I'm beginning to think that this must be some kind of elaborate jest. The rules of grammar must be memorized just as the rules of spelling are. There's nothing "natural" about either of them. The ways that people learn those rules are usually different, but they are both rules and they both must be learned.

JTT wrote:
The part I underlined and put in bold tells it all. Prescriptions have to be memorized. They are not part of the natural rules of English, the ones we all know, the ones we deploy minute by minute.

"Natural rules of English?" What sort of nonsense is that? There are no "natural rules" of any language. Try learning a foreign language and see how many of its rules seem "natural" to you.

JTT wrote:
What's also so telling is that these prescriptions are ignored by people using language naturally.

So what? That just might mean that they're speaking incorrectly.

JTT wrote:
More than a few fail to learn how to read and write, while all learn how to speak.

Again, that just assumes that whatever way one speaks is the correct way to speak. That's begging the question.

JTT wrote:
As pointed out above, grammar is something that everyone learns and in many ways it's shared with writing though the rules are quite different for different levels within, let's call it the speech register, to contrast it with the newspaper, fiction, and academic registers.

Actually, there are relatively few deviations in the rules of grammar from one speech register to another. It's not as if people speaking informally form plurals or decline verbs any differently from people speaking in a more formal context.

JTT wrote:
Quote:
No, in speech we don't form singular possessives in two ways. We form them in only one way, by adding an "s" or "z" sound at the end of the word. In speech, therefore, the possessive of "Charles" is pronounced "Char-el-zez" (where the "e" sounds are schwas). There's no confusion, therefore, in speech. It is only in writing that we run into problems.


That's false, Joe.

How is that false?

JTT wrote:
James' book or James's book.

Charles' book or [how come you didn't write the possessive form?]

Regardless, in both cases, the former sounds more natural to me than the latter though I acknowledge that both exist.

Seriously? You mean that when you speak, you say "Char-elz chair" rather than "Char-el-zez chair?" Don't people ask you what a "Charles chair" is?

JTT wrote:
But it wasn't always so. The rules come from speech. They are mimicked in one form or another for writing and when the rules of speech change, the rules for writing adapt. It's always been so for speech far advanced writing in time and changes to language are for the most part generated in speech.

Again, so what? If writing adapts to speech patterns, that still doesn't mean that descriptivists are right and prescriptivists are wrong.
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Aug, 2009 08:22 am
@JTT,
JTT wrote:
How do scientists discover things about any subject, about any living creature Joe?

Depends on what you mean by "discover." Certainly, scientists can discover things just by observing a subject. But they also perform experiments and devise hypotheses and theories and make all sorts of deductive conclusions. That's "discovery" too, I would suppose. But then scientists don't purport to be prescribing the rules by which their natural subjects should act.
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Aug, 2009 09:38 am
@joefromchicago,
Quote:
Again, so what? If writing adapts to speech patterns, that still doesn't mean that descriptivists are right and prescriptivists are wrong.


Joe is correct. The linguistic point is that the concept "grammar" as "language rules" is being used differently by the prescriptivists who are "instructing" others in a language for particular contexts and the descriptivists (like Chomsky) who are using it to study the general language abilities of humans. And even theoertical grammarians differ amongst themselves as to the focus of their attention. Chomsky for example concentrated on the grammaticality of "the sentence" whereas Halliday focused on maco-structures such as textual and discourse analysis. Further differentiation occurs when phonology and semantics are included as aspects of "rule usage".
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Aug, 2009 12:42 pm
@joefromchicago,
Quote:
You must be joking. Do you seriously believe that children don't have to be taught how to speak? Are you familiar with any feral children by any chance?


I'm not joking, Joe. Do you think that parents and others surrounding a child actually know the rules of grammar?

Quote:
Now, since we always speak the language of our parents, they must have helped us learn to speak our first language. But do you remember when your mother taught you the past tense? When your father laid down the rules for passive sentences? We don't remember these important moments of our childhood because they never occurred.

Our parents didn't teach us how to walk and they didn't teach us how to talk. Yet we learned from them. How can this be? Certainly there must have been a subtle, perhaps intuitive teaching process that neither our parents nor we were aware of.

http://www.alphadictionary.com/articles/ling001.html



Quote:
The rules of grammar must be memorized just as the rules of spelling are. There's nothing "natural" about either of them. The ways that people learn those rules are usually different, but they are both rules and they both must be learned.


You're confusing memorized and learned. People memorize prescriptions but they fail to follow them in natural speech, even in their writing. That's because prescriptions are not natural rules of English, they are, as S Pinker states, "alien to the natural workings of the language system".

If children were taught language and grammar the way you envision then we'd have every reason to expect that the prescriptions would stick, would we not?

Children would be forever cured of asking for permission using 'can' and they'd always use 'may' for that's what they're "taught". Indeed, one would expect that even those adults that "teach" them this rule should then follow it. Children don't and neither do adults.

Corpus studies show that 'may' is rarely used to ask permission while 'can' is extremely common.

People would follow the 'that/which' rule. They don't, never have in all the history of English. You know what's so funny about all these "rules". Most were invented long after the structure/collocation was well established in the language. Don't you find that a bit odd, Joe?

Quote:
So what? That just might mean that they're speaking incorrectly.


'might', Joe? You don't sound like you're all that sure. Language science is not in agreement with you, nor are the people who use language.

Quote:
"Natural rules of English?" What sort of nonsense is that? There are no "natural rules" of any language. Try learning a foreign language and see how many of its rules seem "natural" to you.


All languages have their natural rules, Joe. And all have their prescriptions. The latter are not natural. As I mentioned above, they aren't followed because they are alien, ie. not natural.

You're envisioning learning a foreign language as an adult, often by study and a large measure of rote memorization. Even with full immersion, adults often fail or always sound like foreigners.

Take a child and put them in the same position and within months they are pretty much fluent in the language, including native pronunciation. Take them into another language immersion scenario and they repeat the process, with the same degree of success.

Why would children be this successful but adults, with a much greater capacity for reason be so much less successful?

Quote:
Actually, there are relatively few deviations in the rules of grammar from one speech register to another. It's not as if people speaking informally form plurals or decline verbs any differently from people speaking in a more formal context.


Corpus studies show you to be mistaken. Maybe not for the two simple examples you've given here, but I can assure you that there are large differences between the registers. There are even large differences among the registers of speech.





JTT
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Aug, 2009 12:50 pm
@Thomas,
Quote:
If you wish to follow the distinction between that and which, then this is pretty much the way to follow it according to Garner, yes. Mind the "if", however.


And I guess I'm to gather that you're presenting this fella as some kind of an expert on language; is that correct, Thomas? Still you refuse to quote him directly. What are you so afraid of, Thomas?

This was in the first posting. Did you read it? Why have you not mentioned it?

Quote:

1. That and which.

The first charge is that the Times "consistently proves that it does not know the difference between ‘that’ and ‘which,’ greatly favoring the latter." There's only one thing he could be alluding to here: he's one of those people who believe the old nonsense about which being disallowed in what The Cambridge Grammar calls integrated relative clauses (the old-fashioned term is "restrictive" or "defining" relative clauses). Strunk and White perpetuate that myth. I've discussed it elsewhere.

The notion that phrases like any book which you would want to read are ungrammatical is so utterly in conflict with the facts that you can refute it by looking in... well, any book which you would want to read.

As I said before about which in integrated relatives:

As a check on just how common it is in excellent writing, I searched electronic copies of a few classic novels to find the line on which they first use which to introduce an integrated relative with which, to tell us how much of the book you would need to read before you ran into an instance:

A Christmas Carol (Dickens): 1,921 lines, first occurrence on line 217 = 11% of the way through;
Alice in Wonderland (Carroll): 1,618 lines, line 143 = 8%;
Dracula (Stoker): 9,824 lines, line 8 = less than 1%;
Lord Jim (Conrad): 8,045 lines, line 15 = 1%;
Moby Dick (Melville): 10,263 lines, line 103 = 1%;
Wuthering Heights (Bronte): 7,599 lines, line 56 = 0.736%...

Do I need to go on? No. The point is clear. On average, by the time you've read about 3% of a book by an author who knows how to write you will already have encountered an integrated relative clause beginning with which. They are fully grammatical for everyone. The copy editors are enforcing a rule which has no support at all in the literature that defines what counts as good use of the English language. Their which hunts are pointless time-wasting nonsense.
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Aug, 2009 12:55 pm
@fresco,
Quote:
The linguistic point is that the concept "grammar" as "language rules" is being used differently by the prescriptivists who are "instructing" others in a language for particular contexts


That they are doing this isn't being argued, Fresco. The point is they are mistaken on the grammatical issues where they have tried to force rules that are not rules.

There's no benefit in "instructing" anyone with a set of falsehoods.
 

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