saving the world

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Dec 4 17:02:35 UTC 2006

I agree with Jerry but will nitpick as follows:

  We are all descriptivists, but to the extent that we endorse, through daily practice and example, conventional orthography, usage, and syntax, we're all prescriptivists too. Just ask our students !

  What we've learned, through professional training and experience, is not to condemn dialectal pronunciations. Some of the more cantankerous, like myself, occasionally go so far as to criticize an extreme case of innovation that seems like a hindrance to broader communication, but we do so without any intent or expectation of imposing some form of "linguistic morality." Differences are different, and the few that may be confusing or potentially embarrassing ought to be discouraged simply as a practical matter. But what even more prescriptive pedagogues have had to say in earlier eras about their pet linguistic peeves has exerted no evident influence on actual usage by "regular people."

  Moreover, "prescriptivism" has come to mean outright condemnation more than mere "prescribing," coupled with severe social penalties for those who won't "tote the line" (goak: see an earlier post).  None of us are (or should/ shall I say "is" ?) in favor of that, at least not outside the English comp classroom, where basic competence in writing (not conversing) has got to be taught if our literate civilization is to keep muddling through.

  If the tone on this list is sometimes more light-hearted or even facetious than elsewhere,
  it's only because certain topics cry out for such treatment.

  To people like me.


  "Cohen, Gerald Leonard" <gcohen at UMR.EDU> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "Cohen, Gerald Leonard"
Subject: Re: saving the world

I'll try answering Susan Bart's message below. ------ Ads-l is a =
forum for discussing a very wide range of topics pertaining to the =
English language in all its varieties. Dialectal features are included, =
of course, but there's also etymology, modern usage, stylistics, early =
attestations, etc. etc. etc. I believe there are some four hundred =
members, and the beauty of the list is its wide =
representation--geographically, academically (independent scholars too), =
and with regard to interests and life experiences. The result is an =
enormously valuable exhange of information, and much of it deserves to =
be compiled, polished a bit and published. I'm trying to make my own =
contribution in this regard with the etymological discussions.
Every so often someone presents an offbeat idea (I do so myself =
occasionally), and it doesn't take long for a correcting response to =
straighten things out. Mr. Zurinskas has been more persistent than most =
in propounding his point of view, and for at least several weeks =
numerous ads-l members showed considerable patience in correcting his =
various basic errors---all to no avail. Meanwhile, patience has =
eventually worn thin, and that's the point when Ms. Bart joined the =
In the nine years or so I've been on this list there has been only =
one instance of a participant being excluded due to a gross breach of =
netiquette. (He evidentally was mentally unbalanced and started sending =
incoherent messages laced with profanity.) I don't think the present =
case warrants such drastic action. Instead, either Mr. Zurinskas should =
on his own realize that he has pushed his discussion on this matter as =
far as it will go; he might consider retiring gracefully from ads-l to =
find like-minded prescriptivists with whom to continue his discussion. =
Those of us on ads-l are by conviction descriptivists and Mr. Zurinskas =
is a committed presciptivist. From the exchange of messages over the =
past several weeks it is clear there is really no room for a fruitful =
exchange of information/opinions.
On the off-chance that Mr. Zurinskas persists in sending messages, =
I'd suggest following Ron Butters' recommendation to ignore them. =
Members have the option of responding of course, but for most of us the =
guidance should be to simply move on from this topic.
Gerald Cohen
Professor of German and Russian
editor, Comments on Etymology
University of Missouri-Rolla


From: American Dialect Society on behalf of Susan Burt
Sent: Mon 12/4/2006 6:47 AM
Subject: Re: saving the world

Hello, Everyone,

I am new to this list--been on it for about 3 or 4 weeks, perhaps. I
had just accepted the post of "Midwest secretary" of the ADS, and
thought I should be at least listening in on this list. So, Beverly's
call for reform (below) and several of the messages have made me wonder
what kind of list this is, and whether the messages I have seen over
the past weeks are typical or whether I have just come in at a bad
time. Are there moderators? What do they do? What are the goals of
this list? The only other list I am on is the LINGUIST list--and this
seems very different (I suspect one difference may be that their
moderators are paid, though probably not much).

This real linguist (though not dialectologist), and dues-paying ADS
member would welcome non-flaming enlightening comments.

thanks, everyone,


On Dec 3, 2006, at 10:47 PM, Beverly Flanigan wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: Beverly Flanigan
> Subject: Re: saving the world
> =
> --------
> I for one am getting tired of this kind of ranting on what was set up
> to be
> a neutral, objective, real-language-based listserv dedicated to the
> principles of the 100-year-old-plus American Dialect Society. Are you
> aware of the ADS and what it stands for? Are you a member? Now I'm
> ranting! But instead of ignoring these misguided missives, I'm going
> to
> renew the call of some years ago that we restrict subscription to this
> listserv to those who are paying members of the ADS or who at least
> have
> serious and unbiased contributions to make. And I'm willing to let =
> moderators be the judges of that. Anybody want to join me?
> At 01:07 AM 11/24/2006, you wrote:
>> The alphabetical principle holds that letters stand for sounds. We
>> find now
>> that even Egyption hieroglyphic symbols stand for sounds, and we can
>> speak
>> the writings of 5,000 years ago because of this.
>> Arbitrary dialects destroy this relationship and should they take =
>> lessen the consistency of correspondence between letters and sounds
>> and make
>> English all the harder to read and learn. Not good.
>> Let's not be artificial dialectizers by misspeaking words, but rather
>> retainers of what semplence of alphabetic principle we have for
>> English.
>> Tom Zurinskas, USA - CT20, TN3, NJ33, FL4+
>> See and the 4 truespel books at
>> _________________________________________________________________
>> Stay up-to-date with your friends through the Windows Live Spaces
>> friends
>> list.
>> =
>> friends.aspx&mk
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society - =
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - =

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