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Re: Planet of the New Papers

Now that evolution has been mentioned, this thread is almost back on topic again... :o)

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jerry D. Harris" <jharris@dixie.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, August 21, 2007 4:47 PM

    Yes, of course, and I wasn't saying that a universal language wasn't
_desirable_ -- just unrealistic, at least in the short term (meaning our

Perhaps forever. In evolution, speciation happens. With languages it's the same. In the USA, the Northern Cities Shift and the Southern Cities Shift are right now rotating the vowel system in opposing directions, and all this despite the remarkable mobility of Americans, plus TV and whatnot.

Languages evolve over time, of course -- it's why we don't use "thee" and "ye" anymore in English yet get all excited when "D'OH!" is added to the Oxford English Dictionary (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/1387335.stm). ;-D

These are actual changes in the language (...assuming the last one is here to stay).

Perhaps not in British English, but it wouldn't surprise me much
(though it would seriously depress me) if "c u" became acceptable
instead of "see you" in American English in another few decades.

This is a change in the spelling. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the language: the words are still pronounced and used in exactly the same ways as before. The same holds for its/it's, their/there/they're, and so on.

In our lifetimes, we've already largely
done away with the "rule" that sentences shouldn't end with prepositions
(perhaps wisely, as Winston Churchill would note!); this has been the result
of public pressure, which began with a culture in which so many people
couldn't be bothered to actually _adhere_ to the rule that whomever it is
that makes the rules decided to just abandon it -- hence, cultural changes
effect linguistic changes.

To cut a long story short, that's nonsense. Although they are distinct oddities on a European scale, phenomena like sentence-final "pre"positions, singular "they", so-called "split infinitives"* and others have been part of English grammar for several hundred years. They are in Shakespeare's works, they are in the King James Bible, and so on. It's no wonder, then, that I was explicitely taught all those things at school as differences between English and German that I have to pay attention to, just like how I was taught that "I was" and "I have been" don't mean the same in English. Prescriptivists like Strunk & White merely take their own stylistic preferences or those of their teachers and act as if they were laws of nature or something.

Recommended webpages (also follow the links in each):
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001843.html (on prescriptivism in general)
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004454.html (on how the vain fight against preposition stranding began in 1672)
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003572.html (on singular "they")
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002180.html (on cases where you _must_ "split infinitives")
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002146.html (on "which" and "that")
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002189.html (more on the latter)
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001702.html (on how Churchill cheated twice to contrive his example...)
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002054.html ("The pointless game of grammar Gotcha")

* That, actually, is inapplicable to most languages, because in them an infinitive is always a single word.

Languages that aren't adapted to the environment
in which they exist don't survive unless they adapt. (It's just whether or
not those adaptations are "good" is what's arguable!)

Such adaptations consist almost always of adopting new words. It doesn't seem to ever happen that there's a real hole in a grammar.

BTW, India has about 1,000 languages, 18 of which (including English) are official.