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My question What is the pronunciation of "Aussie"? has been closed as "not constructive":

This question is not a good fit to our Q&A format. We expect answers to generally involve facts, references, or specific expertise; this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.

First of all let me get a little bit of a rant out in the open — sometimes there will be questions that truly need experts to answer them. Sometimes those questions may attract lots of people who think they know the answer to, even though they can't back it up. Sometimes those people will insist on flooding the question with their answers even though their entire answer is constructed with opinion. Is Stack Exchange really not suited for those questions? Or is the problem with the answers? After all:

The English Language and Usage Stack Exchange is for linguists, etymologists, and (serious) English language enthusiasts.

If we cannot deal with (downvote) unreferenced, opinioned answers while we wait for an expert answer, then Stack Exchange is not really for experts.

Even though my opinion is agreement with the highest-voted answer, I agree with the complaints that it is nothing more than opinion.

In the last comment on the question, Kosmonaut asked:

I asked you how it would even be possible to give more than an opinion. Can you give an example of a hypothetical answer that would yield an objective answer to this question?

Of course, my guesses will be terrible because I'm not an expert. But I was hoping there would be something like:

  • "Differences in dialect may include consonants, even for proper nouns. Speakers of this dialect should generally speak consistently, and not adopt or reproduce sounds of another dialect simply because it is a proper noun. For example, Australians say Mel-behn and Americans should say Mel-born"

or

  • "Proper nouns should be spoken the same by all dialects except for typical vowel sound differences" (in other words, Ah-zee or Oz-ee but not Ah-see).

or, best of all would be for the question to be answered by someone with academic knowledge about the word Aussie itself.

And still, there may not even be a correct answer — maybe it's "anything goes", but that itself is an answer (especially because in the anecdote in my question, the other party insisted one pronunciation was actually wrong).

Regardless, the main point is that the question does not ask for opinions. It asks what is correct. I believe that is every bit as answerable as almost any "what is correct" question on this entire site.

I would even love to see a good answer posted to the question with expert linguistic references that show that it really doesn't matter. I believe such an answer would be highly voted up.

So my question is, why can questions like this not be answered on Stack Exchange? Are we unable to handle poor answers the usual way — down votes?

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"What is correct" makes sense only if there is a defined standard to which the practice can be compared. So questions about grammatical correctness are OK, because English does have universal grammar rules. (The rules are, um, more flexible than the rules of some other languages, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.) Pronunciation, on the other hand, is entirely dialect-dependent. The correct pronunciation of a word in a particular dialect is the way that speakers of that dialect pronounce that word. There is no overarching principle of adherence to spelling, or word origin, or any other arbitrary rule: if most people say it like /z/, /z/ is perforce the correct pronunciation. If there are two competing pronunciations in use, there is no single correct pronunciation. Asking which of the two is more correct, like you did, is a request for opinion. It has no objective answer, and thus it doesn't belong on an SE site.

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    @Martha - your answer is essentially an answer to my question. It seems many people did not actually read the question. I asked because I had been told one was wrong. I didn't actually ask "which of the two is more correct", and you've answered that option #2 (Both are OK) at the end of my question is correct. – Nicole Jun 22 '11 at 21:11
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    @Renesis: The problem is that this answer is an answer to all questions like it. Instead of copying the same answer all over the place, we close questions that deserve this answer. There isn't anything new to discuss in the question itself; the topic is the same regardless of the word. In the event that there is a common pronunciation it will probably be found in a dictionary which would get the question closed as General Reference. – MrHen Jun 23 '11 at 20:47
  • @MrHen - there are plenty of pronunciation questions that are open. – Nicole Jun 23 '11 at 20:58
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    @Renesis: Did you bother looking at them? Most of the crappy ones have been voted to close or have been closed; the others are nothing like your question. But if you find another one like yours let me know so I can vote to close it too. – MrHen Jun 23 '11 at 21:06
  • @MrHen - See also meta.stackexchange.com/questions/95805/…. You may not agree with that reasoning but certainly there are some that do. Kosmonaut sounds like he/she has all the information needed to ascertain that there is no right answer, but I, as a non-expert, don't. I don't think that makes an invalid question, since you are asking the asker to know what they don't know. – Nicole Jun 23 '11 at 21:16
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    @Renesis: I think you may be taking the Close too personally. A question getting closed has nothing to do with you knowing or not knowing something. The point is that the question (and its potential answers) are not constructive. If you find a way to edit the question to make it more constructive, it will likely get reopened. – MrHen Jun 23 '11 at 21:23
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    Also of note, Kosmonaut didn't close your question. Five other people voted it closed. I would have added my own vote and apparently Kosmonaut would have too. So at least seven people are in agreement. Don't try to put all of the responsibility on Kosmonaut. – MrHen Jun 23 '11 at 21:25
  • @MrHen regarding Kosmonaut, I'm referring to the comments that have been made, not the close vote. And I'm saying it as a compliment - clearly I know less about pronunciation rules. What I don't understand is the "not constructive" reasoning when the answer is apparently something I, and presumably others at my level, just don't know about pronunciation. In addition, there is the region/accent association element to my question. I'm prepared to let it go, I just want to understand. – Nicole Jun 23 '11 at 21:35
  • @Renesis: Fair enough. I hope you get what you need from this meta question. :) – MrHen Jun 23 '11 at 21:36
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Do you not see that your two hypothetical answers here would just be opinions? Again, without an English Language Board that might make an official decision one way or the other, there is no authoritative basis for saying:

Speakers of this dialect should generally speak consistently, and not adopt or reproduce sounds of another dialect simply because it is a proper noun.

Nor:

Proper nouns should be spoken the same by all dialects except for typical vowel sound differences

It's not because the question is too hard, and it's not because there is a lack of experts on EL&U, it's because there is no objective answer for what people ought to be doing.

We all have our opinions about what sounds better or seems more logical, but these are just opinions.

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    I've not been to any sort of advanced schooling for linguistics, so I don't know what sort of rules become rules and when opinion is the rule. I'd love to see an answer that explains how opinion here makes this question any less answerable than the many, many "why" or "which is correct" questions on this site. – Nicole Jun 22 '11 at 21:01
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    @Renesis: For such a question there are two main sources for determining the answer: (1) actual use, (2) the dictionary, to determine if there is a standard. In your question, you laid out these two at the beginning: Australians say "ozzie", but I hear Americans say "ossie", and the dictionary gives both pronunciations as correct. Then you go on to say "So what's the answer? Should English-speakers, no matter their dialect, use the pronunciation that the subject of the word itself uses?" – Kosmonaut Jun 22 '11 at 22:42
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    It certainly looks like, from the way you have constructed the question, that you are looking for something beyond the objective sources for determining what's going on. I can say "no, they shouldn't", but that's just my opinion, or Ham and Bacon can say "yes, they should", but that's just his opinion. – Kosmonaut Jun 22 '11 at 22:43
  • but why are people so eager to just give their own opinion? Why does that constitute an answer? I'm not just looking for a dictionary, but (not being a student of linguistics) I've assumed there's more to the topic of pronunciation than dictionaries, and in particular, I'm wondering if one pronunciation in a dictionary might apply to one group, and another to another group (perhaps justifying the attitude of the website author I encountered?) – Nicole Jun 23 '11 at 0:53
  • To clarify, by "more", I realize there is no English Language Board, but the combined body of English language experts, made up of professors, academics, authors of language guides or dictionaries, etc., would certainly be able to answer my question (even if it is to say that there's no right or wrong). – Nicole Jun 23 '11 at 0:57
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Unlike other SE places, like Mathematics, it's easier at EnglishSE to give an opinion as an answer.
And yes, I think your question shouldn't have been closed because it was careful constructed. In the end you give three alternatives, but you it's clear that you ask for an "official" explanation, not an opinion.
Now, encouraging or enforcing downvoting doesn't really work, because it is not popular. There are however some people who support it such as the answers here or here.
So in the end perhaps it is not a bad idea to close correct questions (such as yours) who inadvertently are open to debate. Next time when you ask you may add "I am not looking for opinions".

  • Fair enough, thanks for your insight. – Nicole Jun 23 '11 at 14:40
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    agreed, if anything english.se needs more closing of subjective and trivial (aka 'general reference') questions. – Jeff Atwood Jun 25 '11 at 18:39

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