Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
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28-09-2012, 08:16 PM (This post was last modified: 28-09-2012 08:19 PM by depat.)
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
Wow! DLJ, U rite. whas scirry is that i taugh english to litl 1's. DLJ: I like your post.
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28-09-2012, 08:22 PM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
(28-09-2012 08:16 PM)depat Wrote:  Wow! DLJ, U rite. whas scirry is that i taugh english to litl 1's. DLJ: I like your post.

Eye tot u sed litl 1s (no apostrophe required. Please!) wos teechin' english 2 u.

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28-09-2012, 08:36 PM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
I picked that up in grammer school. At university, a postmodernist professor taught me all I now know.
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28-09-2012, 09:03 PM (This post was last modified: 28-09-2012 09:09 PM by cufflink.)
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
(28-09-2012 07:28 PM)DLJ Wrote:  Cuffs, your comment about having a definitive rule book (and an authority as per Spanish and Hebrew) has got me thinking...

Dictionaries and grammar books are continually being updated but the religious books got stuck in the past. However, the majority of users seen them as guidebooks (framework) not law books (standards).

In this I read hope for humanity.

The extremists (grammar fundies) will never go away but they are small minority compared to the masses who adopt and adapt.

Interesting analogy, DLJ. I never considered that before.

The thing I can think of that comes closest to "holy writ" in the way of grammar guides is Strunk & White. i sometimes think that damn little book has sold 500 trillion copies. I don't know about other places, but here in the States it's had enormous influence. No telling the number of people who own it and swear by it. Trouble is, a lot of the time it's just plain wrong. (Take a look at Geoff Pullam's comments in the Criticism section of the Wikipedia article I linked to. He's right on the money.)

Now in the case of S&W, people in the know can simply say, "Sorry, they got it wrong." You can argue whether a rule they give is valid or not, but unlike the Bible there's no recourse to, "It can't be wrong because it comes from God, and God is never wrong!!!"

It's always been fascinating to me how non-fundie believers get around the noxious passages in their holy books. The books are frozen in time and can't be changed--we're stuck with them. So the options seem to be:

1. Benign neglect. Ignore the bad stuff--just pretend it doesn't exist, and focus on the sweetness and light.

2. Claim that the bad bits are no longer relevant. "It was meant for a different time."

3. Shift the focus. "Yes, but note that further on Jesus said [something totally different that's much more acceptable]."

4. Assert that the text is not to be taken literally. It's poetic, figurative, evocative . . . but not meant literally, so don't worry about it.

5. Interpret. "You can't take this at face value. In light of the context and what we've now learned about Ugaritic grammar, and comparing this verse to another verse in a different book written 400 years earlier, we see that what it really means is . . . " So it may say black, but we now know it really means white.

I think you're right about the hopeful aspect of this kind of stuff. Despite the setbacks, we as a species do advance. When the frozen texts don't advance with us, by and large we find a way to adapt them to our advancing understanding. I'm just glad we don't have to go through such gyrations with language!

Religious disputes are like arguments in a madhouse over which inmate really is Napoleon.
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29-09-2012, 07:38 AM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
I do.

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Science is not a subject, but a method.
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29-09-2012, 07:55 AM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
My spelling's generally OK but my grandma's up the pole.

Pro communication ... well I try not to come off as uneducated, but it's way more important to me to convey the idea succinctly and clearly than to obey obscure rules.

Having said that, say I get a letter full of spelling errors from the bank or so... well, it's too much trouble really to make a stink, but I'll be pretty down on them for a while. Good spelling and grammar show that you're putting in the extra mile for your customers, that you care about detail. I'm lucky in that I don't need to talk to customers, except when there's very occasionally a help desk issue, and then I'm allowed some latitude since no one expects developers to be normal people - we're acknowledged to be a bit strange... Milking the stereotype, oh yeah Big Grin
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29-09-2012, 08:19 AM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
I talk to myself in my head then write it down, so it's all fuckered and avuncular and shit. And I begin sentences with and alla time. Who decides? Not me. But I do it anyway. It's Gwynnie's fault, making me a prophet and shit. Big Grin

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29-09-2012, 11:57 AM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
(28-09-2012 05:10 PM)cufflink Wrote:  @Aseptic Skeptic:

Thanks for the detailed and spirited comments. I'm with you on certain things and disagree strenuously on others.

Our common ground seems to be that (1) what's right or wrong is determined by majority rule, although the deciding group is not simply the majority of English speakers, and (2) it's crucial to keep in mind the audience to whom you're speaking or writing.

It would be a lot simpler if we spoke French or Hebrew--we'd have the Académie Française in Paris or the Academy of the Hebrew Language in Israel to tell us the correct choices. Since there's nothing comparable in the English-speaking world, we can only go on the basis of what respected writers and speakers actually do. The rules are abstracted from the practice. Is it OK to end a sentence with a preposition? There's no Great Grammar Book in the Sky to answer that question. Likewise, we can't always trust what teachers tell us, because most of the time they're just repeating what their teachers have told them, etc.--and when you trace the thread back centuries, you sometimes find there was never any valid basis for the decision in the first place!

That is indeed the case with the infamous preposition rule. I don't know the history here (I'm sure it's been written about extensively), but I'll bet it has to do with the fact that among the "familiar" languages, English is unique in that it allows you to "strand" prepositions at the ends of sentences. So we can say:

(1) To whom are you speaking?

or

(2) Who(m) are you speaking to?

But Spanish only has the equivalent of (1):

(3) ¿A quién estás hablando?

You can't ever say:

(4) *¿Quién estás hablando a?

So the early grammarians probably thought, "If it's wrong in Spanish and French and Italian and Latin, it must be wrong in English too."

What they didn't do is go out and look at what good writers are speakers were actually doing! If they had, they would have discovered that such writers have always allowed sentence-final prepositions, and of course still do. In the "To be or not to be" soliloquy, Hamlet says:

The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.

Do we want to tell Will he was wrong, and it should have been, ". . . fly to others of which we know not"? Smile

This is clearly a case where the "rule" is a genuine myth, and our teachers were wrong. That's acknowledged by both sides of the debate linked to in the OP. It's also characterized as a myth in Joseph Williams's Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace, a famous textbook now in its 10th edition used in many graduate-level courses.

That said, I agree with you that sometimes it's wise not to stir up a hornet's nest if you don't have to. That's where "Audience Analysis" comes in. If, say, you're writing to someone you need to please or impress, and you're aware that that person is a Grammar Nazi who accepts all of the old-fashioned received wisdom on right and wrong in language, then it's prudent not to do anything that will make him or her go "Tsk tsk." But there's no reason to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition unless you know it's something up with which your reader will not put. Big Grin

In spanish you can say: ¿A quién estás hablándole? Tongue

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29-09-2012, 12:34 PM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
It's about consequences.
I can *say* any fucking thing I want, and any *way* I want.
However, there are consequences.
If I swear all the time, then when I DO swear, it's nothing special, and no one will pay any attention. "Oh, him again".
If I swear in line at the movie, where there are kids, the moms and dads get pissed-off.
If I am trying to have a conversation with educated people who understand the injection of an obvious "off color" word" is for emphasis, it depends on the situation.

If the question is about what educated people subconsciously perceive as "normal language flow", so the content of the language is not impeded, (or distracted from), by the usage, then that's a little more complicated, as it's related to the people involved in the conversation, and how they are related to me. I speak to my dog one way. I speak another way with my friends, and another with my teachers, and boss, and various family members all differently, depending on our relationships, (and relative power ??)

So who makes the rules for normal language flow ? I dunno. Tongue

Maybe it's just what get imprinted by our regular contacts at a certain age, and modified in language class.
Where do "they" get it ?
Same way. Reinforced general culture.
But there are always "high" or "formal" usage situations and "casual".
Casual, anything goes.
High ? hmmm ..ask hoc. He's da prophet.

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29-09-2012, 04:48 PM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
(29-09-2012 11:57 AM)nach_in Wrote:  In spanish you can say: ¿A quién estás hablándole? Tongue

Thanks. I hadn't considered that possibility. I've changed my example to ¿Con quién estás hablándo? etc. which I think makes the point more clearly. But the point still stands. You can't end a sentence with a preposition in Spanish, while you can in English.

Religious disputes are like arguments in a madhouse over which inmate really is Napoleon.
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