Attack of the Language Cranks

6 March 2007 at 23:31 4 comments

If you follow Language Log at all (and I do), you know that there’s no shortage of language mavens ready to jump on the least usage offense as evidence that the English language is going to hell, with or without handbasket.

Just yesterday, Geoff Pullum posted about software designed to identify all the adverbs in your browser window, presumably so you can go back and strip them from your prose. My favorite bit of Pullum’s post:

Strunk and White were a pair of hypocritical old grousers whose inaccurate grammar and usage edicts dated not from the last century but the one before that. Yet people not only treat them as if their words came from God and had been chiseled into granite slabs during an encounter up a mountain; they also fail to read those words to see if the old fools practice what they preach. Of course they don’t.

(Note that Pullum’s writing doesn’t seem to suffer in the slightest, despite his disdain for the self-styled usage police.)

On some level, I know that it’s not just Anglophones who are obsessed with saving their language from its speakers. Sitting on the shelf alongside my bed is a copy of linguist Fredrik Lindström’s Världens Dåligaste Språk (World’s Baddest Language), which is essentially an extended rebuttal to all the Swedes who think that the standards for Swedish are sinking ever lower and that, by the way, it’s World’s Worst Language, thank you very much.

So I don’t know why I was so surprised this morning when I stumbled on a review (from the Indian newspaper The Hindu) of a new usage manual for Telegu Telugu speakers. All the familiar prescriptivist gripes are present: standards in schools and textbooks are slipping, the media compounds the problem, etc.


Entry filed under: Language, News, Sweden.

The Things People Buy Low-Tech Support

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Quux  |  9 March 2007 at 17:19

    Erm, it’s Telugu not Telegu. Now, was that really hard?

    P.S. Why’s e-mail “required”? I don’t want you contacting me via e-mail, so why isn’t there a way for me to express that?

  • 2. gaddeswarup  |  9 March 2007 at 20:36

    All the standard gripes seem to be correct. I have seen books from some official digital libraries with odd or even pages only, some pages copied in an angle with parts of the pages missing, illegible etc. But it is a beautiful language. In spite of about 50 years away from home I still keep remembering achatelugu (real Telugu) songs and stanzas. Even imperfect copies help.

  • 3. AmyP  |  10 March 2007 at 13:26

    Oops, you’re right, Quux. Thanks for pointing out the misspelling.

    Email is “required” for verification only — to increase the chances that real people are commenting, not spambots. Since I do this for fun, I want to spend the most of my time working on posts, not deleting spam.

    I’m never going to email anyone based on a comment. In fact, there’s no way for me to find your email address via a comment unless you provide a link to the address (or to some page that includes the address) in your post.

    If I decide I need to have email contact with readers in the future (highly unlikely, but who knows), I’ll start a mailing list so that I only email those people who specifically want to receive email.

    Take care,


  • 4. Cornelius Puschmann  |  14 March 2007 at 4:30

    Thanks for sharing, Amy. It never fails to amaze me how people attempt to justify their silly prescriptivist rules with some non-existent higher logic, when it’s really just about taste and the inability to understand that languages constantly change.

    Strunk and White should try selling their nonsensical little book with the tagline “Because we think so!” instead of rambling things about “grammar”, a term that should always be put in quotes in the context of style manuals.


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