Pullum at MIT this afternoon

ronbutters at AOL.COM ronbutters at AOL.COM
Wed Apr 21 19:39:10 UTC 2010

I am on this side of the Arlantic and had no trouble reading JL's rant, though I confess that I, too, found it rather heavily pounded straw.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

-----Original Message-----
From: "Baker, John M." <JMB at STRADLEY.COM>
Date:         Wed, 21 Apr 2010 13:27:05
Subject:      Re: [ADS-L] Pullum at MIT this afternoon

        Is there anything here with which Geoff Pullum disagrees?  My
impression from what I've seen of his writings in the past is that this
is entirely consonant with his views.  He may not have had a chance to
read this himself, since he's currently stranded on this side of the

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
Of Jonathan Lighter
Sent: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 7:35 PM
Subject: Re: Pullum at MIT this afternoon

>       Education is not promoted through encouraging educated Americans
>       believe, falsely, that their command of their own native
language is
>       flawed and inadequate.

I'd like to know exactly what "educated" means here and which subset of
"educated Americans" is being criticized "falsely."

Without the word "educated," however, the statement is a fine example of
"linguistician's fallacy," a name I have the honor to introduce right
now. I
first ran into it in grad school when I heard a new TA gleefully
how she'd told her freshmen that to follow advice provided by the
composition handbook was to enslave oneself to "The Man's etiquette," a
degrading charade that, unfortunately, they had to play out if they
to get The Man's diploma. Right on! Power to the Pupil!

The linguistician's fallacy lies in the assumption (held almost
by some academics) that the "command of their own native language" that
people have from childhood is optimal for every nonconversational
variety of

This assumption is incorrect. But - as usual - don't take my word for
it. Is
it true that published writing in the language of any industrial society
exhibits merely the speech competence people unsonconsciously master in
childhood?  Obviously not. To say so is to say, for example, that
addressing juries, Presidents addressing Congress, Congressmen
each other and the public, and members of any profession providing
information to their peers exhibit only the stylistic skills they
by the age of six or twelve or even eighteen. I'd like to see the
that they do.

The linguistician's fallacy reduces multiple uses of language to that of
everyday, often imprecise and inconsequential conversation. It then
without evidence and against the belief of every literate society we
of, that that level is perfectly adequate for all situations.

I haven't looked into Strunk & White in decades. So for all I know the
authors really were authoritarian, pontificating weasels who didn't know
squat about grammar. But no pontificating could be more baseless than a
global claim that teaching clarity, flexibility, and effectiveness is a
waste of time, an assault on self-esteem, an unnatural act committed on
English, or anything else that the linguistician's fallacy usually


On Tue, Apr 20, 2010 at 10:26 AM, Amy West <medievalist at w-sts.com>

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Amy West <medievalist at W-STS.COM>
> Subject:      Pullum at MIT this afternoon
> An MIT alum friend forwarded this to me:
> ---Amy West
> >
> >       Subject: TALK:Tuesday 4-20-10 The Land of the Free and "The
> Elements
> >of Style": How False Claims about English Grammar Do Actual Harm
> >
> >
> >       The Land of the Free  and  "The Elements of Style": How False
> Claims
> >about English Grammar Do Actual Harm
> >       Speaker: Geoffrey K. Pullum
> >       Speaker Affiliation: University of Edinburgh
> >       Host: Regina Barzilay
> >       Host Affiliation: CSAIL
> >
> >       Date: 4-20-2010
> >       Time: 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
> >       Location: 32 G449
> >
> >       Language Log (www.languagelog.org) has fought a long battle
> against
> >       regarding "The Elements of Style" as a respectable work on
> the
> >       English language.  But if some of what Language Log has
> is
> >       perhaps somewhat bit hyperbolic (its authors were described in
> post
> >       as "a shameless, pontificating, ignorant, hypocritical,
> incompetent,
> >       authoritarian pair of old weasels"), there are nonetheless
> serious
> >       issues involved.  American writing instructors recommend
> to
> >       their students despite its being astonishingly outdated;
> ludicrously
> >       idiosyncratic; unfollowable on some points (because of
> >self-contradiction);
> >       grossly and demonstrably inaccurate on points of syntactic
> and
> >       actually mendacious in some of the ways it tries to make
> its
> >       toxic brew of opinions and proscriptions.  Linguists should
> >take seriously
> >       the notion that such indefensible bossy advice about grammar
> >does actual
> >       harm, both by wasting resources and by promoting "nervous
> >cluelessness".
> >
> >       Relevant URL(S):
> >
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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