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  #101  
Old 01-30-2012, 10:07 PM
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The fact that I write a certain way doesn't amount to an intellectual argument in favor of following all the rules that I follow in my writing, anymore than the fact that I don't speak with a New York accent means that I think that NY accents are wrong.
Yeah, the funny thing is that no one is making that argument. That's a strawman.

How many times do I have to state this?
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I have reported Vivisectus for bullying ITT.

Just as a broad clarification, in case I haven't explained it well, what I'm saying is that prescriptive rules have no place in casual communication among reasonably intelligent, literate people.

...
Remarkable then that, in this forum, you consistently choose to write in passable prose that follow the same general guidelines taught to "beginners" and writers "for hire." Must just be a coincidence, since surely there's "no place" for it.
If that's the case, then what is so remarkable about the way lisarea chooses to write?
lisarea is an intelligent interlocutor who writes against any kind of need to follow the general conventions of common usage while using the general conventions of common usage. I think that's a contradiction.
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  #102  
Old 01-30-2012, 10:08 PM
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I have reported Vivisectus for bullying ITT.

Just as a broad clarification, in case I haven't explained it well, what I'm saying is that prescriptive rules have no place in casual communication among reasonably intelligent, literate people.

...
Remarkable then that, in this forum, you consistently choose to write in passable prose that follow the same general guidelines taught to "beginners" and writers "for hire." Must just be a coincidence, since surely there's "no place" for it.
I have reported this post for lack of subject/verb agreement.
I have reported this post for being authoritarian, prescriptivist, and following the dictates of Strunk and White!!!
What? I've never made a prescriptivist argument. I reported one post for subject/verb agreement error. It's my understanding that the culture generally determines the rules-of-thumb in both conversational and formal prose. And, generally -- not absolutely -- it frowns on errors in subject/verb agreement.

So there's no way you can categorize me as prescriptivist.
Wait -- you're saying I'm arguing against a strawman!?!?! No way. No one on these boards ever argues against a strawman. Can't be.
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  #103  
Old 01-30-2012, 10:10 PM
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I'm amazed at how one correction of a comma-splice in a thread on grammar brings on the anti-grammar-nazi nazis in droves. You're all authoritatively anti-authoritarian.

But you're arguing against a straw-man version of what I'm saying. I don't think grammatical, usage, or even punctuation "rules" are absolute. I love the gradual evolution of English, which is by far the biggest and most all-encompassing language on the planet (as well as the most spoken). I think the only authority on such things is really the culture. I'm also maintaining that we can gauge the cultural usage with some reference texts, just like we can gauge any other academic area with certain reference texts or professional journals. Further, I think they mostly agree that comma splicing is to be avoided.

How in the world is that controversial?
You have made some questionable pronouncements, and it's generally not well-advised to go around correcting people's usage in casual conversations (again, people you are not either grading or paying for their work). Leaving aside the point that punctuation is an orthographical convention, and not really grammar in any but the loosest sense.

HOWEVER, you seem like you might have some interesting things to say about some stuff, and I feel a little bit guilty for being flip with you, so I will do my best to explain why the tone of your discussions is unhelpful.

The demographics of this board tend toward old and overeducated. It's very unlikely that anyone here hasn't heard of the Elements of Style or other well-traveled style guides, so it comes across as patronizing when you recommend it, even setting aside its usefulness. (It's a great book to have read ten or twenty years ago and have vague recollections of, but it has many objective, technical errors and is a poor resource for anything involving actual grammar.)

If you do actually want to discuss grammar or rhetoric or something, this is a great place to do so, as there are experts here. I don't mean me. We have linguists and published writers and lots of smart, articulate people who have interesting things to say about those and other topics. It is unlikely that they'll be interested in discussing them with you as long as you're just going around lecturing us as though we're grade schoolers, though.
I am honestly and sincerely interested in the "questionable pronouncements" you think I've made. Would you mind being specific here?

As I read back over the thread, these are the claims I've made:

1) A comma-splice is a commonly acknowledged usage error.
2) The "authority" on grammar, usage, etc. is culture.
3) Books such as Strunk and White, The Little, Brown Book, and Fowler, as well more advanced style-guides and online writing labs, are a "litmus" of general cultural conventions.
4) The OED is authoritative on spelling, punctuation, and etymology, though not necessarily on usage.
5) DocX is contradicting himself when he sends up a long lecture about the absolute uselessness of rules of thumb in usage, all written in passable prose following those very same rules of thumb.
6) Language evolves. The English language is the largest and most spoken language in the world.
7) There's nothing wrong with the moderate use of passive voice.
8) DocX has expert advice on computer hardware.

You (and DavidM) seem to want to attribute to me some claims that I haven't made. You protest Strunk and White as if my only claim through the whole conversation were that The Elements of Style stands as the sole authority on usage. I never said so, only offering it up as one example of a style guide that acknowledges the comma-splice. I think we have to admit that, as flawed as it might be, it's still one of the most popular style guides out there (having gone through numerous printings and editions), which is really the only reason I mentioned it.

You also want to ascribe to me some kind of authoritative prescriptivism about grammar and usage rules. This is despite my continual claims that language evolves, and that culture is the final arbiter on what is acceptable and what is not. That hardly equals prescriptivism.

Now you're asserting that I'm making questionable claims and defending Strunk and White to an "old, overeducated" board that knows better, as if I'm some dumb college student cutting my academic infant teeth on an internet forum. I happen to be old and over-educated myself. I myself am one of those "published authors" you're talking about, having published continually in academic journals in three fields (psychology, English literature, and philosophy) for over 20 years. I'm no spring chicken, and I'm certainly not fool enough to believe that any one usage guide is an absolute authority, or that, contra DocX, a picture of a Hitler Baby constitutes a reasonable rebuttal to any serious claim.

Speaking of DocX, he wants to have his cake and eat it, too. He begins by correcting me, citing the OED about the non-existence of "comma-splice", railing on to-be verbs, and then telling me I'm being too serious. He posts a long lecture on the history of grammar - 5 times longer than any previous post -- and then lambastes me for making the thread "all about me." Do you see the contradictions here?

So pardon me if I take your "advice" to be condescending. I know you think my correction of a comma-splice (which was, by the way, tongue in cheek while referencing earlier discussion of Oxford commas) is complete anathema, but I'll remind you that you yourself corrected my misuse of the hyphen in the same breath that you denounce the prescriptivist straw-man. That's not even to mention your criticism when I edited out (within minutes, I might add) the more zealous attacks on you in my posts. Damned if I do, damned if I don't.

My intention was not to derail a good, humorous thread. Though I'm not the only one who contributed to that derailment, I do apologize for that, and leave it to its regularly-scheduled programming.
I'm bumping this. Please tell me where I'm incorrect.
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  #104  
Old 01-30-2012, 10:11 PM
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Default Re: When Grammar Attacks

I think it was the part where you paid attention to Doctor X.
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  #105  
Old 01-30-2012, 10:57 PM
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Default Re: When Grammar Attacks

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The fact that I write a certain way doesn't amount to an intellectual argument in favor of following all the rules that I follow in my writing, anymore than the fact that I don't speak with a New York accent means that I think that NY accents are wrong.
Yeah, the funny thing is that no one is making that argument. That's a strawman.

How many times do I have to state this?
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I have reported Vivisectus for bullying ITT.

Just as a broad clarification, in case I haven't explained it well, what I'm saying is that prescriptive rules have no place in casual communication among reasonably intelligent, literate people.

...
Remarkable then that, in this forum, you consistently choose to write in passable prose that follow the same general guidelines taught to "beginners" and writers "for hire." Must just be a coincidence, since surely there's "no place" for it.
If that's the case, then what is so remarkable about the way lisarea chooses to write?
lisarea is an intelligent interlocutor who writes against any kind of need to follow the general conventions of common usage while using the general conventions of common usage. I think that's a contradiction.
I don't.

Is it a contradiction to say that there's no need to prohibit the use of marijuana if you are someone who doesn't use or enjoy it?

And I don't think you're characterizing her argument correctly. There certainly are grammatical rules that we all follow almost all the time. I don't think she was arguing that we have no need to follow any conventions of the English language. She's arguing that we don't need to follow prescriptivist conventions for the sake of being "correct". I'm sure she would agree that it is good to be clear and easy to understand, those things just don't happen to necessarily overlap with prescriptivist rules.

A relatively easy (but not perfect) way to distinguish between prescriptivist rules and the "normal" rules of English grammar is that prescriptivist rules generally must be taught in school, and the normal rules are acquired naturalistically, without any concentrated effort made at it.

People have to be told "Don't say 'Me and John went to the store'! That's wrong." Usually followed by "You wouldn't say 'Me went to the store', would you?"

But, of course, the rules of (American) English grammar prohibit the sentence

*Me went to the store

So nobody would say that outside of a disfluency. It is obvious when you look at English descriptively that there is a rule that allows object pronouns to be subject in compound subjects ("__ and __"), but not by themselves. But prescriptivists would have you believe that compound subjects and subjects with only one constituent are identical situations, which they are not.

Nobody is confused by "Me and John went to the store." I would guess that lisarea has no problem with that sentence for conversation on :ff:.
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  #106  
Old 01-30-2012, 11:46 PM
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Sorry, could you repeat that ChuckF?

I was not paying attention.

--J.D.
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  #107  
Old 01-31-2012, 12:29 AM
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Default Re: When Grammar Attacks

No, I'm not going to go through all of your questions and try to answer them. They seem to be some kind of mish-mash of questions I've already answered, things Doctor X said that I haven't commented on at all, and weird misunderstandings or misrepresentations.

I don't like repeating myself. If you haven't bothered to understand what I've already said, it would be silly for me to keep retyping it in hopes that you'll read it maybe this time.

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You (and DavidM) seem to want to attribute to me some claims that I haven't made. You protest Strunk and White as if my only claim through the whole conversation were that The Elements of Style stands as the sole authority on usage.

I never said so, only offering it up as one example of a style guide that acknowledges the comma-splice. I think we have to admit that, as flawed as it might be, it's still one of the most popular style guides out there (having gone through numerous printings and editions), which is really the only reason I mentioned it.

You also want to ascribe to me some kind of authoritative prescriptivism about grammar and usage rules. This is despite my continual claims that language evolves, and that culture is the final arbiter on what is acceptable and what is not. That hardly equals prescriptivism.
See? Like that right there. That's not even close to what I said. I said that the EoS is a poor source for information about grammar, and I said that prescriptive grammar is of extremely limited utility, and that it has little use outside of the classroom and publishing.

I didn't make these weird personal attacks that you're claiming at all. I never made any assumptions about your world view, and the closest I came to any kind of personal statement was when I made fun of you for that petulant post that you later edited. I probably have the pre-edited version sitting in an archive, if you want me to go find it so I can show what I was responding to.

And you do know that my 'correcting' your hyphenating 'comma splice' was intentional? Even if I hadn't said as much when I did it, it's pretty obvious that I'm not going to correct someone's usage in seriousness right in the middle of explaining why you shouldn't try to correct other people's usage.

It's weird that you'd just casually assume someone would do something that stupid without being aware of it.
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  #108  
Old 01-31-2012, 12:45 AM
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It's weird that you'd just casually assume someone would do something that stupid without being aware of it.
How is that in any way weird? People do stuff like that all the time. It seems a pretty reasonable assumption that people would do stuff that stupid without being aware of it, even fairly smart people.
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  #109  
Old 01-31-2012, 12:56 AM
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I was recently writing about this topic.

Thing is, to some extent, I think prescriptivism and the concept of "correct" grammar are useful things -- because a lot of the time, when people say "but everyone knows what I mean", the reality is that people aren't sure what they mean, and are guessing with varying degrees of accuracy or awareness.

Of course, that happens with or without grammatical convention differences.

I think at this point my view of language is closely tied to the famous Robustness Principle: Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you generate. I try to understand things as well as I can no matter what they do, but if I want to be understood, there are a lot of rules I usually follow.

Usually.

A friend of mine was recently asked a question on tumblr, and responded with words to the effect of "someone asked me to comment on this because I have VERY FEELS about young people and suicide". This is clearly-incorrect, except it's obvious what it means, roughly.
That's got to be some kind of transposition error or intentional or something. Like the quote in the OP, that doesn't even look like natural language. Maybe your friend is inarticulate in writing (and subsequently one of the beginner types for whom some subset of prescriptive rules might be useful), or, more likely, it was just sort of a typo (for 'very strong feelings'). "I have very feels" doesn't appear to be grammatical according to any English dialect I've heard, not just according to prescriptive rules.

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Just as with math, if something is wrong with a language use, we should be able to articulate what it is without simply citing some rule we've memorized.
In some cases, it can be very, very, hard to explain what's wrong without referring to a rule. (Have you ever successfully explained to someone who didn't have a math background why "you can't divide by zero" is a good approximation of a rule?)
I don't think I have, but unless someone is completely innumerate, I'd expect them to be able to understand that. As long as they understand what the numerals and the operations mean, they can work it out, and if they needed a little guiding, yeah, I expect I'd be able to explain it.

Explaining it to someone without a math background, though, would be roughly equivalent to explaining language to someone who is not a native speaker. Non-native speakers often do need to memorize rules that native speakers don't.

I knew a guy who taught English in China, and some of his students asked him if something was a count noun and he didn't know what that meant. He had never had to consciously think about whether something was a count noun or not because he just knew. His ESL students, because they didn't have the foundational language skills he did, needed to memorize the rules.

The thing is, though, all you really need is a simplified description of natural grammar, even for beginners. There are still rules. There are tons of them, too many to articulate, and sometimes, the rules are probably too complex to lay out fully for a beginning language learner, so they may need to be simplified a little. But that's not what most prescriptive rules are. There's not much overlap between the natural rules of language and the prescriptive ones, because the natural rules don't need to be spelled out except in certain limited circumstances (like natural language processing or ESL). Literate, adult, native speakers don't need to memorize rules.

I think that might be similar to what your'e saying there, but I've gotten the impression people are sometimes confused about that.
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  #110  
Old 01-31-2012, 01:09 AM
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It's weird that you'd just casually assume someone would do something that stupid without being aware of it.
How is that in any way weird? People do stuff like that all the time. It seems a pretty reasonable assumption that people would do stuff that stupid without being aware of it, even fairly smart people.
Here's the context. I'm pretty explicit about the fact that it's intentional.

And no, I don't think that it's reasonable to assume that someone who is explicitly saying that prescriptive grammars are pointless would correct someone else's usage in that same post without being aware of it. That would be astonishingly, implausibly stupid.
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Old 01-31-2012, 01:22 AM
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I knew a guy who taught English in China, and some of his students asked him if something was a count noun and he didn't know what that meant. He had never had to consciously think about whether something was a count noun or not because he just knew. His ESL students, because they didn't have the foundational language skills he did, needed to memorize the rules.

The thing is, though, all you really need is a simplified description of natural grammar, even for beginners. There are still rules. There are tons of them, too many to articulate, and sometimes, the rules are probably too complex to lay out fully for a beginning language learner, so they may need to be simplified a little. But that's not what most prescriptive rules are. There's not much overlap between the natural rules of language and the prescriptive ones, because the natural rules don't need to be spelled out except in certain limited circumstances (like natural language processing or ESL). Literate, adult, native speakers don't need to memorize rules.
When you're learning Russian one of the signs of real progress is when you start making the kinds of mistakes that Russian children make. Those are the good mistakes because it just means that you haven't internalized the quirks. Anyway that part is boring and stupid. In grad school I had a couple of Russian-American friends who spoke both Russian and English natively. We got to know each other through this particular Russian course that a lot of Russians who emigrated to the US as children took, where they learned how to spell in Russian. (They never went to Russian schools, so they spelled stuff phonetically, which is very often wrong. I know people are all like "Oh, Russian is phonetic" but no, it is not.)

Sometimes I would make them help me with other stuff. One of the things that is fucking hard for learners of Slavic languages is verbal aspect. It's complicated, but basically there is a different verb for "I read the book from beginning to end" and "I read the book for a little while." Then it gets a little more complicated with verbs of motion, when your verb choice depends on whether it is unidirectional or multi-directional, a round trip, and whether you are going on foot or by conveyance. Just trust me, ok, damn? So a lot of my questions were on the gray area between imperfective and perfective aspect. I would always be like "Hey, which verb do I use here?" and then they would tell me and I would say "That is wrong and stupid!" Then I would explain why I thought I was right, like because of some silly mnemonic or rule that I learned in class - the best one was an extended metaphor about a sandbox . They would look at me and go "What the fuck are you talking about?" And 100% of the time that we disagreed, they were right and I was wrong. They had never even really thought about people having to learn to use verbal aspect. It is just a thing that you do out of pure Sprachgefühl and when you try to reduce it to a rule, it is imperfect and awkward.
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  #112  
Old 01-31-2012, 01:37 AM
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I used to correct my parents' Italian all the time, then when they asked me why what they'd said was wrong I'd be all "it just is, is all." It wasn't until 7th grade when I took my first Italian class that I was able to have some sort of grammatical explanation to underpin my bratty bilungual rightness.
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  #113  
Old 01-31-2012, 01:48 AM
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I had a Spanish teacher who was a native speaker who would answer "just say what sounds right!" when talking about things like adding direct or indirect objects to the ends of verbs. She could never articulate a decent rule of thumb for when to do it or not, other than when it sounds right. I understood exactly what she meant, but these poor kids who did not grow up in LA were up shit creek. :giggles:
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  #114  
Old 01-31-2012, 02:08 AM
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And no, I don't think that it's reasonable to assume that someone who is explicitly saying that prescriptive grammars are pointless would correct someone else's usage in that same post without being aware of it. That would be astonishingly, implausibly stupid.
I do not consider it implausible. I have encountered that level of stupidity. Repeatedly.

It may not be common, but it certainly strikes me as plausible in the general case. (Accusing you of doing it, I agree, is not plausible, but someone who doesn't know you personally might reasonably consider it plausible for "some person on the Internet" to do that.)
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  #115  
Old 01-31-2012, 02:13 AM
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That's got to be some kind of transposition error or intentional or something. Like the quote in the OP, that doesn't even look like natural language. Maybe your friend is inarticulate in writing (and subsequently one of the beginner types for whom some subset of prescriptive rules might be useful), or, more likely, it was just sort of a typo (for 'very strong feelings'). "I have very feels" doesn't appear to be grammatical according to any English dialect I've heard, not just according to prescriptive rules.
It follows a meta-rule which is that you're allowed to fuck around with the rules if you're using all-caps. It's like "i can has cheeseburger". My friend is very articulate, and so far as I can tell everyone reading it perceived it as intended. (It may be influential that many of them are in the same fandoms and read the same things that, in some cases, intentionally introduce linguistic noise like this.)

It's like "PROBLEM IS SOLVE!". In lowercase it's wrong, but in block caps it strikes me as expressing enthusiasm, frequently ironically.

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I knew a guy who taught English in China, and some of his students asked him if something was a count noun and he didn't know what that meant. He had never had to consciously think about whether something was a count noun or not because he just knew. His ESL students, because they didn't have the foundational language skills he did, needed to memorize the rules.
Yes! We have Chinese coworkers, and the thing is, no native speaker could make the mistakes they make -- but they could never make the mistakes that I see from inept or inexperienced native speakers. I just have to translate "one X" into "a/an X" sometimes, and stuff like that. (I maintain a TWiki page on the topic internally at $dayjob because it's an occasional problem.)
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