Evidence for DECIMATE ('one in ten')

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 15 14:57:57 UTC 2008

On Jan 7, 2008 2:57 PM, Arnold M. Zwicky <zwicky at csli.stanford.edu> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU>
> Subject:      =?ISO-8859-1?Q?Re:_Evidence_for_DECIMATE=A0_=28'one_in_ten'=29?=
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Jan 7, 2008, at 11:08 AM, Ron Butters wrote:
> > I don't really see how we can dismiss the "opinions" that people
> > have about
> > word meanings as somehow not "real" even if they may seem to be "all
> > theoretical."
> people have all sorts of opinions about language -- for instance, that
> "fuck" derives from Found Under Carnal Knowledge, that it's wrong to
> end sentences with prepositions, that women talk a lot more than men,
> that "moist" is intrinsically offensive to women, and so on -- and
> those opinions are "real", as opinions.  but they aren't necessarily
> accurate as factual claims.
> so some people have an opinion about the meaning of "decimate", but
> there's no evidence to indicate that the word actually has that
> meaning; no one seems to *use* the word that way.  meanwhile, there's
> tons of evidence, from a great many speakers and writers, in a wide
> variety of contexts,  that the word has a 'greatly reduce' sense.
> >
> > I certainly agree that is obviously ridiculous to insist that the ONLY
> > legitimate meaning for a word is a meaning that occurs only in the
> > writings of the
> > insisters.
> once again: this meaning doesn't occur even there.  it's *mentioned*
> there, but not (so far as i know) ever *used* there.
> > I am comfortable saying that such an insistence in itself decimates
> > the dogma that the prescriptivist reading is the ONLY legitimate one.
> >
> > My point is merely that linguists must not dismiss data that clearly
> > is
> > inside the heads of large numbers of real speakers of the language.
> > All the data
> > that the prescriptivists (and dictionary makers) generate (and have
> > generated
> > for over 100 years) clearly indicates that, for a considerable
> > number of people,
> > DECIMATE has the meaning 'destroy 10%' of something.
> no, the evidence indicates that people *believe* it has this meaning.
> _lots_ of people believe they never "drop their g's", because only the
> velar variant of "-ing" is acceptable.  but almost  invariably these
> people turn out to use the alveolar variant on occasion; it's part of
> their linguistic system, part of what they know (tacitly) about their
> language, even if they believe otherwise.  (yes, i understand that
> this case isn't entirely parallel to the "decimate" case; "decimate"
> is pretty much in a class by itself.)

"_lots_ of people ..."?! Don't you mean, "_tons_ of people ..."? :-)
But, seriously, folks, how come people be done replaced "lots" with
"tons"? Ain't nothing can't be done about it, I reckon.


> > The fact that this
> > belief may have come about in ways that a linguist does not approve
> > of makes it no
> > less linguistically real--assuming that linguistic reality inheres
> > in the
> > minds of actual users and that linguistis should not rule out of
> > consideration the
> > meanings that actual speakers of the language assign to words simply
> > because
> > we do not like their attitudes or sanction the ways in which they have
> > constructed their associations.
> all the evidence about the meanings that users assign to "decimate"
> indicates that a great many people have the 'greatly reduce' sense for
> it (and no other), and some others don't use the word at all (though
> they hold a belief about what it means).
> arnold
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