01 February 2010

newsflash: language peeves potentially irritable

coming across the twitter tubes this morning (via @jillianp), this story out of New Zealand: "Research could dismay English language purists". in other news, "Water is wet", "Vegetarians not so keen on meat", etc. etc.

i shouldn't mock the bit of news that prompted this piece: a USD $400K+ grant to do a massive morphological survey of English. this could be incredibly useful. it's just the "context" that the writer put it in. gems like:
It is the first time the morphology of the English language has been looked at in this depth since rules were first laid out in the 19th century.
because before the 19th century, there were no rules! sheer and utter chaos! it's a miracle people could even form words.

but this brings up an interesting question: why did the (mostly inaccurate) grammar texts of the 19th century become sacrosanct to the so-called "purists"? and there's no doubt that they've taken on a mystical value, because they have the ability to trump basic logical reasoning. present a "purist" with two options—150 years of hearsay based on something initially wrong, or the collaborative research of renowned language experts—and they'll chose the former every time. and it can't just be anti-institutional, "down with the man!" sentiment; if that were the case, they should have rejected the prescriptivist poppycock (to borrow Geoff Pullum's term) in the first place.

oh well, we all know that the surest way to go insane is to argue with irrational people. so instead, i'll just pretend that the headline on the story was "Research could be pivotal for English linguists" and go about my day.

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