Still :-) mostly -- McWhorter on "standard English"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 15 08:54:01 UTC 2010

This meant as no more but a casual observation with nothing behind it.

I like to fool around in old-style descriptions of a wide variety of
languages that usually have no standard and fantasize as to how I
would standardize the language, were it in my power to do so. What I
find to be the case, more often than not, is that there is no pure
dialect, even when you're dealing with only a few thousand speakers.
Asturian, one of the minority lRomance language of Spain, is a
reasonable example. I randomly decided that, were I to "standardize"
Asturian, I'd use the local dialect of Lena. But I very quickly found
out this this tiny backwater subdialect of a few thousand speakers of
a backwater language has at least has itself at least two major

 Well, all I need to do is to pick the "purer" (= more archaic)
dialect and make the less-archaic one a subdialect. Needless to say, I
soon discover that, depending upon what feature I examine, A is going
to be more archaic than B or B is going to be more archaic than A. A
may be less-castillianized than B in case (1), but, in case (2), A may
have become less archaic than B all by itself, with no input from
Castilian. So, in order to construct the pure "standard," I have to
mix A and B. Of course, once that I've done that, the "standard" is no
longer pure.

If I then decree that "standard" Asturian is this language that I've
essentially pulled out of my nether regions, all that I really have is
an artificial construct and not a true natural language.

As it happens the Academia de la Llingua Asturiana has done something
like this. And if I understand what I'm reading - only a punk-bitch
resorts to using a dictionary, which would be Asturian-Castilian in
any case - each local government will be permitted to use a version of
their local dialect merely *based* on the "standard" for official
purposes, while continuing to use the spoken form of said dialect
unchanged. Of course, if the language survives at all, I picture a
kind on mini-United States, in which everyone eventually speaks the
"standard" in his local dialect, but writes the *standard* for all
official purposes.

Of course, I wouldn't bet money that everyone uses standard American,
even for official paperwork, even for theses. Indeed, even here,
everyone has his own way of writing the standard. No problem.

But I find myself really annoyed by oeiople who alternate between the
masculine and the feminine pronouns. That's as useful as alternating
between the black and the white pronouns as a means of advancing
racial equality.

But there *are* no black-vs.-white pronouns! you protest. In, e.g.
Japanese and Turkish, there are likewise no masculine-vs.-feminine
pronouns. Needless to say, this has led to total equality between the
sexes, just as the lack of the encoding of race and class in the
English pronouns has led to complete equality among races and classes.
Or should that be, "total equality between the genders"?


On Thu, Jan 14, 2010 at 5:26 PM, Robin Hamilton
<robin.hamilton2 at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Robin Hamilton <robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Still :-) mostly -- McWhorter on "standard English"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>>>Received Standard English -- "I say, my good man (or woman, or person as
>> the case my be), would you do me the favour of providing me with
>> nourishment
>> in the form of ground up cow clasped in a bun?"
>> Doesn't this just make RSE equivalent to "fossilized, circumlocutional
>> English suitable only for class-directed satire?"
> Yeah, mea culpa -- the substance of this quite legitimate observation was
> made to me independently, by someone who read the post over my shoulder
> after I sent it.  Basically, I got caught out perpetrating a bait and
> switch.
>> If so, amusing; but surely the reality is more subtle.
> I'm not sure it's even amusing (me trying to be too clever for my own good).
> And lazy -- it was easier to generate a parodic text than to try to find a
> more cogent example.
> Brooding over this issue, and trying to determine within myself whether
> Glasgow Urban Working Class Speech/es constitute/s a dialect, pidgin, patois
> or creole, it occurred to me that two separate issues are at play here --
> the question of dialect and the question of register.
> Strictly, the choice of which speech variation to use when ordering a
> hamburger in McDonalds as against submitting a scholarly paper to a peer
> reviewed journal would be a matter of a choice of register.  This would
> apply *regardless of the dialect or dialects of the customer, employee,
> scholar or editor in question or questions.
> Robin Hamilton
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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