Monday, October 7, 2013

A look into the past of grammar criticism

by Derek Spencer

Language changes — this is a fact with which we're all acquainted. It seems also that for as long as humans have used language, humans have decried each subsequent generation's mangling of the written word. Some commentators have discussed the "decline" of the English language in strident tones; others have taken a more measured, thoughtful tack.

As for the question of whether Geoffrey Nunberg is in the former or latter camp, well, we'll leave you to decide. In this sweeping article, written nearly thirty years ago, Nunberg discusses the history of grammatical analysis and compares the approaches taken by prescriptivists (those who insist that grammatical rules are hard and fast) and descriptivists (those who hold that rules depend on practical usage by the speaking and writing population). Here's a link to the article:

The history lesson is probably the most fascinating part of the piece, but also of interest are the author's examples of language misuse from his time. Thirty years is a relatively short time, but some of the uses the author identifies as improper are now firmly cemented within standard English.

What do you think? Do you side more with the linguists who believe that language is flexible and that's fine, or do you place your trust in the prescriptive grammarians?

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at Prestwick House.

No comments: