Trudgill in Vocabula

Gordon, Matthew J. GordonMJ at MISSOURI.EDU
Mon Jun 16 22:47:06 UTC 2003

It seems to me that one of the principal reasons that linguists and prescriptivists don't play so well together is the disagreement over criteria for judging language (a particular form or expression, a pronunciation, etc.). We might all get along if we'd agree that judgements about better and worse are fundamentally social and/or political. The problem comes when prescriptivists pretend that their judgments are based on objective criteria.

For example, Robert Hartwell Fiske has written about wordiness as "arguably the biggest obstacle to clear writing and speaking" (in the Nov. 2000 issue of TVR). He offers pages of examples containing "extra words [that] are not needed to convey the thought." Absent from this list are examples like "They cool" or "The mail here" in which the copula (BE verb) is omitted. It's hard to argue that such sentences are deficient on linguistic grounds. The fact that millions of speakers of English have no trouble understanding them and similar constructions exist in other languages (e.g., Russian) indicates that they are capable of conveying the intended thoughts. The reason why such examples are not included in Fiske's advice, despite conforming to the "logic" of the piece, is that they are associated with a stigmatized dialect, which is to say with a stigmatized group of speakers.

-----Original Message-----
From:   Beverly Flanigan [mailto:flanigan at OHIOU.EDU]
Sent:   Mon 6/16/2003 4:46 PM
Subject:             Re: Trudgill in Vocabula

At 04:30 PM 6/16/2003 -0400, you wrote:
>That a U.S. presidential candidate can cry Is our children learning, an
>admired basketball star can use the word conversate, a well-known college
>can say vociferous when he means voracious, and another can scold a student
>for using the word juggernaut because she believes it means jigaboo is
>disturbing. The Vocabula Review strives to combat the degradation of our

"Conversate" is a perfectly good back-formation from "conversation" and is
common in the Black English-speaking community (and spreading to other
speech communities as well).  To lump it together with inept rhetorical
style and (admittedly) confused lexical items is hardly to make a case for
the degradation of "our" language.

BTW, who _are_ the owners of "our" language?

More information about the Ads-l mailing list