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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"Error is the engine of language change"

Posted by on Tue, Mar 11, 2014 at 3:29 PM

This article in The Guardian by David Shariatmadari outlines how mispronunciations and other gaffes have led to today's version of the English language. He offers more proof that our language (and every tongue?) is an ever-evolving organism, how "today's mistake could be tomorrow's vigorously defended norm." All of which is lovely in theory, but headache-inducing if your job demands firm standards—like, say, journalist or editor.

Did you know that bird used to be brid, or that horse once trafficked as the inelegant hros? And when's the last time you pronounced the "l" in walk? Shariatmadari provides eight examples of how English has mutated over the centuries. As someone whose job it is to ensure grammatical propriety, this is I find this to be an unnerving read. Yes, go ahead and morph, English language, knock yourself out. Accrue acres of exciting slang terms, lose vowels, contract, expand, take on emoticons, emojis, bitcoins, and other thingamajigs. But I'm still going to cringe and correct every ~!@#$%^&* botched usage of it's that I see. And stop putting year before anniversary already! (Godspeed, posterity's proofreaders...)

Read the whole piece here.

Tip: El Cul


Comments (10) RSS

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I predict a thinly disguised racist rant in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

It's a beautiful day, you shouldn't be reading comment threads. Go play outside.
Posted by rca on March 11, 2014 at 3:34 PM · Report this
I'm happy that media outlets are discussing language in ways that are not utterly false, but this sort of thing should be very common knowledge (and it could be with a modicum of k-12 instruction). Words are not immutable shadows of platonic ideals. In fact, the notion 'word' doesn't really have any good fit in contemporary linguistic theory. "An orange" use to be (roughly speaking) "a norange" (look at Spanish naranja).

But language change over time is not the result in errors in the sense that there is a one true version of the language. Rather, children subconsciously acquire (via innate guidelines and messy input) a system that resembles that of their surroundings to a sufficient degree that they can get by.

Posted by bradl on March 11, 2014 at 4:14 PM · Report this
As someone whose job it is to ensure grammatical propriety, this is an unnerving read.

You realize, of course, that the above is an ungrammatical sentence. As written, the initial phrase modifies "this". Not unlike "walking down the hill, the bicycle hit the boy".
How about "As someone whose job..., I find this an unnerving read".
Posted by crone on March 11, 2014 at 4:45 PM · Report this
TVDinner 4
This is something up with I shall not put!
Posted by TVDinner http:// on March 11, 2014 at 4:53 PM · Report this
@3 You're right. That's how unnerving a read it is. I have donned the hair shirt.
Posted by Dave Segal on March 11, 2014 at 4:56 PM · Report this
@3 What do you mean by ungrammatical? That sentence sounds fine to me. The article was concerned with static and arbitrary notions, but with the fact that parochial facts about language (like the fossilized 'error' you seem to be referring to) are subject to change
Posted by bradl on March 11, 2014 at 5:02 PM · Report this
correction: ...was *not* concerned with...
Posted by bradl on March 11, 2014 at 5:05 PM · Report this
Ugh, I should let this go, but I can't.

correcting this: As someone whose job it is to ensure grammatical propriety, this is an unnerving read.
to this: As someone whose job it is to ensure grammatical propriety, I find this an unnerving read.

is the same as pronouncing the capital of Hungary as 'budapesht' instead of 'budapest', namely an arbitrary marker of education that really has nothing to do with 'English'. Getting uptight about these distinction is in effect getting uptight about education/class-based perceptions.
Posted by bradl on March 11, 2014 at 5:24 PM · Report this

The correct answer?

"Its in the Puget Sound!"
Posted by hola on March 11, 2014 at 5:42 PM · Report this
SchmuckyTheCat 10
@1, aks and you shall receive!
Posted by SchmuckyTheCat on March 11, 2014 at 6:34 PM · Report this

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