Prescriptivists, part II

June 26, 2008

Ironically, in reference to my recent post, I noticed today’s cartoon from the New Yorker…

A bold move!

 


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”.