Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
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29-09-2012, 04:52 PM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
(29-09-2012 04:48 PM)cufflink Wrote:  
(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.

Some 'rules', that one in particular, are the result of the misguided application of Latin rules to English. That was just poor scholarship.

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29-09-2012, 05:09 PM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
(29-09-2012 04:48 PM)cufflink Wrote:  
(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.

damn, you got me... Yeah that rule is weird and pretty much useless in english.

In any case, I don't believe in rules of language outside of formal contexts, and in that case they're only useful because it's like a guaranteed way to convey a message with as little misinterpretation risk as possible.
In any other situation, they're useless, nobody can be appointed as the guardian of language. the RAE (Real Academia Española - Royal Spanish Academy) is the authority on spanish but they just gather all the uses and organize the information about spanish, but they don't (and can't) say that something is right or wrong. That is applicable to every language imo.

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29-09-2012, 05:19 PM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
(29-09-2012 12:34 PM)Bucky Ball Wrote:  But there are always "high" or "formal" usage situations and "casual".
Casual, anything goes.

Sure. In fact, the formal vs. casual distinction is not binary but scalar:

1. I found your post to be nothing short of exemplary.
2. I thought your post was excellent.
3. Awesome post, dude!

But it's going too far to say that in casual, anything goes. There's no linguistic system in which anything goes; if there were, communication would be impossible. All systems have rules--it's just that the rules are somewhat different from system to system.

In casual speech we can say, "I couldn't care less if she calls me." But even speaking casually we can't say, "I less care couldn't she if me calls." Some rules still gotta apply. Big Grin

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29-09-2012, 05:34 PM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
(29-09-2012 05:19 PM)cufflink Wrote:  
(29-09-2012 12:34 PM)Bucky Ball Wrote:  But there are always "high" or "formal" usage situations and "casual".
Casual, anything goes.

Sure. In fact, the formal vs. casual distinction is not binary but scalar:

1. I found your post to be nothing short of exemplary.
2. I thought your post was excellent.
3. Awesome post, dude!

But it's going too far to say that in casual, anything goes. There's no linguistic system in which anything goes; if there were, communication would be impossible. All systems have rules--it's just that the rules are somewhat different from system to system.

In casual speech we can say, "I couldn't care less if she calls me." But even speaking casually we can't say, "I less care couldn't she if me calls." Some rules still gotta apply. Big Grin

The rules apply because is the easier way to communicate, think of charades, it uses a very complicated language and that's what makes it fun. If we have rules for language is because we're lazy

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29-09-2012, 05:43 PM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
(29-09-2012 04:52 PM)Chas Wrote:  
(29-09-2012 04:48 PM)cufflink Wrote:  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.

Some 'rules', that one in particular, are the result of the misguided application of Latin rules to English. That was just poor scholarship.

Right. The same holds true for the "rule" about split infinitives.

But we're still left with the problem of distinguishing the "bad rules" (based on poor scholarship, mythology, the elevation of personal preference to universal truth, . . . ) from the "good rules" that should be followed. The problem is compounded by the fact that what's considered right or wrong changes over time.

I once looked at an English style guide from, I think, the 1920s, and discovered something called the "false passive." An example would be, "I was given a book." The authors considered sentences like that incorrect; according to them, the only correct passive form of that sentence is "A book was given to me." No one believes that today--it's absolute nonsense. But apparently it was once considered a rule to be followed.

Another striking example is so-called "sexist language." Fifty years ago it was perfectly acceptable to write sentences like, "A doctor should consider the needs of his patients" or "If a lawyer doesn't have his facts straight, he won't be able to convince the jury." Nowadays if you write like that in a professional context, you'll have your head handed to you. Sensibilities have changed, which affects what's considered acceptable and unacceptable in language.

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29-09-2012, 11:39 PM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
(29-09-2012 05:43 PM)cufflink Wrote:  Another striking example is so-called "sexist language." Fifty years ago it was perfectly acceptable to write sentences like, "A doctor should consider the needs of his patients" or "If a lawyer doesn't have his facts straight, he won't be able to convince the jury." Nowadays if you write like that in a professional context, you'll have your head handed to you. Sensibilities have changed, which affects what's considered acceptable and unacceptable in language.

Hmmm... that's one that I might fall foul of I guess. I had a hard time figuring out why it was wrong. But then I've always regarded something like "Doctor... his" to be shorthand for "Doctor... his or her", just a bit quicker to write, similar to the way people use "Man" to refer to the entire human species, although now that you mention it I think nowadays people are much more careful to use "Human".
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30-09-2012, 11:37 AM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
(29-09-2012 11:39 PM)morondog Wrote:  
(29-09-2012 05:43 PM)cufflink Wrote:  Another striking example is so-called "sexist language." Fifty years ago it was perfectly acceptable to write sentences like, "A doctor should consider the needs of his patients" or "If a lawyer doesn't have his facts straight, he won't be able to convince the jury." Nowadays if you write like that in a professional context, you'll have your head handed to you. Sensibilities have changed, which affects what's considered acceptable and unacceptable in language.

Hmmm... that's one that I might fall foul of I guess. I had a hard time figuring out why it was wrong. But then I've always regarded something like "Doctor... his" to be shorthand for "Doctor... his or her", just a bit quicker to write, similar to the way people use "Man" to refer to the entire human species, although now that you mention it I think nowadays people are much more careful to use "Human".

Well, that's exactly the explanation people used to give: With gender-unspecified terms like "doctor" and "lawyer," we use the masculine form of the referential pronoun purely as a grammatical device. "His" in this context really means "his or her."

The problem is that such usage tends to create unconscious bias. The language we speak has subtle effects on how we habitually view the world. (Fascinating article about this: Does Your Language Shape How You Think?) If we consistently use masculine pronouns for gender-neutral terms, an unconscious connection can be created, making us more likely to think of those professions as the domain of men.

I once did an experiment with my students. I asked them to close their eyes and told them that in a moment I'd be saying one word. They were to form as clear a mental image as they could of the thing in question. The word was "lawyer." Then I asked for a show of hands: "How many of you pictured a male?" About 80 to 90 percent of the class raised their hands. Now I can't claim that gender bias in language was the sole cause, but I think it does show that women still have an uphill battle in how they're perceived in our society.

Every course in professional writing these days has a unit on "Avoiding Sexist Language." There are several techniques that can work, some better than others, depending on the situation. So taking that example sentence, "A doctor should consider the needs of his patients," you can try several things to "fix" it:

A. Use "his or her": "A doctor should consider the needs of his or her patients." That's often the least satisfactory option--it gets awkward quickly. ("A manager should treat his or her employees the way he or she would like them to treat him or her if the situation were reversed.")

B. Recast in the plural, where the gender problem disappears: "Doctors should consider the needs of their patients."

C. Alternate "he" and "she" in different parts of the document. So half the time you say things like, "A doctor should consider the needs of his patients," and half the time, "A doctor should consider the needs of her patients."

D. Restructure to avoid the problem: "A doctor should consider the needs of the patient."

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30-09-2012, 12:07 PM (This post was last modified: 30-09-2012 12:11 PM by depat.)
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
Cufflink: What an outstanding explanation of sexist language and writing examples! The best I've seen.

Historically, the term "sexist language" did not exist until around the 1980s as for thousands of written years, women were simply not the historical authors of doing anything, nor considered a worthy audience. This is a very positive social evolution.
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30-09-2012, 01:58 PM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
Well redefining the English language to include gender neutral singular pronouns is a bit of a lost cause, 'cos everyone tends to fall about laughing, so I guess we have to go with cumbersome to avoid sexist...

Any case *I*'m not sexist. Some of my best friends are women Tongue
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30-09-2012, 11:30 PM
RE: Who gets to decide what "good English" is?
I used to be called a 'masseus' but now I'm just a 'masseur'. I liked the sexist name better Tongue

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