Language lessons: It's time for English teachers to stop teaching that the earth is flat

Seán Fitzpatrick grendel.jjf at VERIZON.NET
Thu Dec 3 15:03:13 UTC 2009

Hardly surprising when "descriptivism" has been used as a stalking horse for
permissivism, chaos, and cultural degeneration.  It always seems to be the
speech patterns of the thugs and slugs that is celebrated by
"descriptivists", as though epidemiologists went about encouraging everyone
to get Legionnaires' disease.  Descriptivism vs. prescriptivism is a false
dichotomy.  Certainly if the "descriptivists" were honest, they would
concede that the "prescriptivists" are being more accurately descriptive
when they point out that talking like Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and
Sarah Palin will get you laughed at by users of coastal dialects.  (And
doesn't it seem that Palin, like Carter, has spent some time with a voice
coach smoothing her accent?)

Sean Fitzpatrick
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?
I blame Global Warming.

-----Original Message-----
From: Dennis Baron [mailto:debaron at ILLINOIS.EDU]
Sent: Wednesday, December 02, 2009 12:02 AM
Subject: Language lessons: It’s time for English teachers to stop teaching
that the earth is flat

There's a new post on the Web of Language:

Language lessons: It’s time for English teachers to stop teaching that
the earth is flat

When I asked a class of prospective teachers to discuss the impact on
students of prescriptive rules like "Don't split infinitives," "Don't
end sentences with prepositions," and "Don't use contractions," one
student ignored the descriptive grammar we had been studying to equate
correctness in language with intelligent design:
I think I support prescriptivism. I believe that some words are
absolutely unacceptable in any situation. I think there should be an
accepted way of speaking and deviation would not be tolerated. I
believe in a set of absolute values. I believe there is one right and
wrong for everyone. Perhaps what I think is right is not what you
think is right but in the final analysis that isn't going to matter.
What God thinks is right is what really matters and He doesn't have
one right for you and one right for me.

Her faith-based answer, God speaks standard English so you should too,
may be extreme, but her emphasis on correct language is one that too
many English teachers accept without question. So far as grammar
lessons go, it's time they stopped teaching that the earth is flat.

Read the whole post on the Web of Language:

Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321

read the Web of Language:

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