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Re: Planet of the New Papers
Now that evolution has been mentioned, this thread is almost back on topic
----- Original Message -----
From: "Jerry D. Harris" <email@example.com>
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
These are actual changes in the language (...assuming the last one is here
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
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):
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
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"
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002189.html (more on the
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001702.html (on how
Churchill cheated twice to contrive his example...)
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
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