Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Internet fragments and new language

Just a quick round-up of recent articles about language...

Internet language and the prevalence of very short "fragments" of language are discussed in this New York Times article by Teddy Wayne. He considers how the constraints of Twitter often lead to compressed grammar and the growth of what he sees as questions being formed by simply adding question marks to statements, or just one word tweets (like "This" or "Adorable") appearing. Worth a look for both Language and Mode and Language Change.

The innovations associated with Multicultural London English (MLE) continue apace. We've already seen some interesting discourse-pragmatic features such as quotatives and tag questions along with phonological features, but it's grammar that's focused on in this piece by Jenny Cheshire on the Linguistics Research Digest, and specifically the appearance of a new pronoun "man" (as in the example, "(1) didn’t I tell you man wanna come see you . I don’t date your friends I date you (Alex)"). Man's been hearing this for bare time in south London, but it's good to see it getting a closer look from the team who have done so much to put MLE on the map.

This Guardian article by Gary Nunn offers a fascinating take on different views about slang, as well as the ways in which slang is used by different groups, including older people. Tony Thorne, one of the country's top slang experts (along with the mighty Jonathon Green) makes the point that "Slang, considered objectively, is not a defective or substandard form of language, but one that creatively mobilises all the technical potential of the English language". So, we get to see granny-slang, yoof-slang, generational and international undercurrents influencing the language we use and an age-old favourite like cool.

Attack of the grammar nazis

In an interesting profile of the linguist Geoff Pullum, the Daily Telegraph's Tom Chivers takes a look at the arguments that still rage around the 'rules' of English. For any of you working on ENGA3 Language Discourses, it's a good read, particularly from about halfway through where Pullum outlines his views on the role of linguists in studying how people in the real world use language and how this contrasts with those prescriptive grammarians who pronounce from on high with little grasp of what language actually does.

Whenever linguists point out that the rules of language can’t be what the “grammar Nazis” think they are, people claim that they’re saying anything goes. Not at all, says Pullum. “We grammarians who study the English language are not all bow-tie-wearing martinets, but we’re also not flaming liberals who think everything should be allowed. There’s a sensible middle ground where you decide what the rules of Standard English are, on the basis of close study of the way that native speakers use the language.” 

And in a later section of the article he illustrates just how he is not a "flaming liberal" by making a strong case for teaching Standard English:

However, there are good reasons to teach the rules of Standard English to children who speak different dialects. “I’m conservative on educational matters,” says Pullum. “It’s entirely to the benefit of all of us that newspapers’ editorials are written in Standard English, and that we can all speak it in situations such as business and air traffic control, and understand each other.” Because this particular form of English, and not northern British English or African American Vernacular English, is the language of prestige and power in much of the world, children who can master it are likely to do better in life than children who can’t. 
It's worth having a think about where Pullum's arguments fit into what we've looked at in the Language Discourses part of the course and how his points about the value of teaching Standard English contrast with those of Lindsay Johns and Michael Rosen, two writers whose work we've looked at in class.