[ExI] Unrelated Question

Dan dan_ust at yahoo.com
Tue Mar 20 17:40:23 UTC 2012

On Tuesday, March 20, 2012 1:01 PM Stefano Vaj <stefano.vaj at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> This, btw, is a classical example of the unnerving imprecision of modern English.
>> All "natural" languages, including pre-Modern  English, are imprecise.
>> They just have different ways of being imprecise.
> Of course you are right, and of course it does really make sense
> linguistically to speak of "mistakes" that would correspond to
> converging intuitions of contemporary native speakers.

And this applies to all times. There are really no special periods here when people speak or write right and then the languange degenerates. That view is little different than how many people just presume things are always getting worse -- often locating an idyllic time either in their childhood, their grandparents' time, or some earlier epoch before modern dentistry was invented. :)

> Let us say however that periods and languages deferring to undisputed
> authorities (say, the Academie Française or Fowler's King's English),
> and to their "prescriptive" and rationalising efforts, make life easier
> to non-natives when in doubt. :-)

At best, that's merely the authority of some elite's dialect -- likely one not all members of the elite follow -- and it tends to change in a generation or two. For instance, with British English today, RP is something you mostly use not so much to teach non-English speakers English, but for actors doing roles in period plays and films.

Of course, part of this change has to do with tolerating if not celebrating more dialects, but even without this it's doubtful that the elites in one era speak the same as the elites in another. And the usual reason these elites' dialects become standard is because of their political or economic power -- not so much because of their dialect being better. To be sure, though RP was probably better for anyone to master than a hundreds of local dialects of English and it's likely some ease of learning weighs in the balance. But ease of learning and use often streamline a dialect too, such that a standard dialect will become easier to learn and use simply because more people use it and chop off all the little idiosyncracies. If this is so, then one might expect had the Jordie dialect, by some fluke of history, been the standard rather than RP decades ago, it, too, would've been streamlined and altered over time...

And I'm sure the same processes are at work in other languages.


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