Prescriptivists

June 26, 2008

As many of you know, prescriptivists have it out to preserve our language, as if people are “killing” it.  What exactly are they, the people, “killing?”  And how is this thing, language, being killed?  These are, unsurprisingly, the same people that say that “black English is bad, poor, and unsophisticated English.”  Ironically, these people can’t tell you when English was “perfect,” so to speak.  The 50’s?  40’s?  30’s?  1800?  Because guess what?  I’m almost 100 percent certain that in those mentioned dates, people were saying the exact same thing: “Oh my child is speaking this nonsense and improper English!  Where on earth are they getting this?  I’m trying my best to teach them proper English!”  Surprise.  What a beautiful concept.  Language evolution.  

This stems from a recent prescriptivist blog I accidentally came across: language and grammar.  This guy (Paul, I presume) has this idea that wanna speakers are lazy and that

Wanna isn’t a word; it’s a verbal laziness, same as the non-wordgonna. It started as only a spoken error,…

I need clarification of what “being a word” means.  Is it in the dictionary (and I’m referring to a REAL dictionary, i.e., Oxford English Dictionary)?  A quick look tells me it is (NOTE: a quick Google search on both words, wanna and gonna, both reveal an average of 222,500,000 hits  Moreover, when you do the search, there is a link at the top that allows you to go to a definition.  Go figure).  So, I guess we can scratch that out.  Is it spoken and understood by more people than just your local friends?  Seems to me to be the case.  Can we produce some awkward sentences with this “word”?  Yes sir we can.  

  1. Who do you want to feed the dog?
  2. *Who do you wanna feed the dog?
  3. I’m going to New York.
  4. *I’m gonna New York.

These examples show we know something inherent about this word and its usage possibilities.  It’s not so “haphazard” and/or “lazy”, as Paul (and many other prescriptivists out there!) seems to suggest.  

Prescriptivists will stick by their decisions because they claim they’re “saving our language.”  From what?  Furthermore, I don’t care what they claim because the most annoying thing about them (yes, I’m referring to ALL of you) is the following: I will bet every penny I have and all of my possessions that if you were to follow a prescriptivist all day–and I mean you are right there next to him/her listening to every word from sun up to sun down–they will say MANY constructions that they are so vehemently against.  Why do you think that is?  Simple.  Because language is so engrained in us that we use it without thinking back to what we “learned” (I’m using this term VERY loosely) in Freshman English class.  We have such a vast knowledge of language that it requires no thinking.  And when I say we “know” a language, I’m referring to everything about a language–the semantics, phonology, syntax, et cetera.  And for those who know anything about linguistics will know that reasons for constructions such as wanna and gonna are hugely phonological in reason.

One last thing.  On the matter of “laziness,” why does the author use other contractions such as isn’t, it’s we’re?  Oh, let me take a guess: because they’re words!  And maybe because they use an apostrophe?  🙂

Define “word”.


Stop stressing

August 4, 2006

I recently had a conversation with someone on line about a similarly structured sentence,

John and Billy’s dog ran away last night.

Seems easy enough. No problems here. Yep. Whoa….wait. Does that dog belong to John and Billy? Or is it saying that John had a dog and Billy had a dog and they both ran away last night (yes, to shack up in Vegas!). If I had ONLY that context given to me in a survey, written that exact way, I would say the former. However, if there was another example written thusly,

John AND Billy’s dog ran away last night. (CAPS = stress)

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(a)telicity and number

July 12, 2006

i still seem to have a problem with events in regard to telicity/atelicity. if an event is bounded, an entity is bounded if it is conceptualized as having a clear boundary in time and/or space, then the event is labeled telic. if the event is unbounded and does not have a solid endpoint, then it is labeled atelic. fine, it’s not the definition i’m having problems with.

the problem arises when certain sentences are used to express with theory. for example:

  1. John built the house in a week/*for a week.
  2. John built houses *in a week/for a week.

(*) indicates that the sentence is ungrammatical–this term ungrammatical can be tricky because it often times refers to the sentence as not possessing the meaning that it is intended to possess. anyway, many theories have come forth indicating that you will usually find that telic events have a definite determiner, while atelic events have an indefinite. fine again. but this is where is starts to get shady for me.

if you read (1-2), you will notice that (2)’s in a week can definitely be grammatical. could i hear someone saying *john built houses in a week? you bet. could you? the only problem i see with that sentence is that it doesn’t specify a number of houses that john built, therefore deeming it ungrammatical. but in order for an event to be bounded, are we now needing number to play a role in its determination? you can also see the same problem (though this one is more problematic than 2) in (1)’s *john built the house for a week. this could possibly be said, but as i’ve stated, it’s a bit more problematic than (2). (1) has the meaning that the house is in the process of being built, but is not yet done. (2) has the meaning that the houses were indeed completed but we are unaware as to the number of houses built in that week’s timeframe.

so number correlates with (a)telicity. so then does that make number the main determiner in events, whether bounded or unbounded?