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Non-linguists often accuse linguists of maintaining that “any sort of language is equally good”, particularly when we decline to join them in their passionate campaigns against whatever it is that has irked them. But this is misguided. Individual linguists have their own ideas about what constitutes good or appropriate usage in English, just like anybody else — except that the linguists’ views are usually far better informed than other people’s. But there is a big difference between expressing opinions and finding out what the facts are, and it is finding the facts that is the primary task of a linguist. Nobody would attack a botanist merely because that botanist was interested in finding out what plants are like, instead of creating beautiful gardens.
R.L. Trask, Introducing Linguistics (2000)
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The language of corporations is like a vampire without fangs; it has no venom or bite but you don’t want it hanging off your neck just the same.
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The dictionary-maker has to record what people say, not what he thinks they can politely say
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The main impact of Afro-American dialect on education has not been its structural differences from standard English, nor its relative intrinsic usefulness as a medium of thought, but its function as a low-status stigma and its association with a rejected culture. The attitudes of teachers toward this dialect and of dialect speakers toward the teachers’ language have affected the social relationships of children with the schools in such a way as to make education of many children almost impossible. Black children of rural southern background have entered the urban schools to find that nearly everything they said was branded as ‘wrong’. In order to be ‘right’ they had to adopt forms that seemed alien even when they were able to learn how to use them. Their own spontaneous products were punished and treated as worthless, including the only language they knew really well.
Jane Torrey, ‘Illiteracy in the ghetto’, Harvard Educational Review, 40(2), May 1970; republished in Tinker, Tailor: The Myth of Cultural Deprivation (1973), edited by Nell Keddie.
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On my blog today: a review of Steven Poole’s new book, Who Touched Base in My Thought Shower? and the “spirit-sapping indignities” of key learnings, synergistic deliverables, and thought leaders who open their kimonos…
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