17

Okay, friends. Here comes the devil's advocate, and he says:

As one who has agonized over the blurred lines between ELU and ELL, I now find myself thinking that maybe, after all, we don't need dividing lines between ELU and ELL. Maybe there's no value in spending so much time and energy building and defending fences. Maybe there is no harm in throwing open the gates and saying, "Come one, come all! Welcome to the new Using the English Language StackExchange site."

Give me a second to duck and cover while you ready your slings and arrows.......

ADDENDUM 9/17/13:

I admit to being mildly surprised that my above "devil's advocate" post left room for interpretation, but I also admit I was not explicit. Allow me, then, to be explicit.

  1. I consider it evident that all (certainly most) of us who are so enthusiastically engaged in this debate are enthusiastic users of both sites.

  2. Ergo, all (grant me "all," if you will) of us enjoy answering and/or debating questions and subject matter on both sites.

  3. Because we love English, top to bottom.

  4. We are entirely capable of self-selecting the posts/questions that interest us. Each of us can respond to the ones of his or her choice, and ignore the others. We do this anyway. We simply do it with the added burdens of jumping between sites and carping about whether any given question should or shouldn't be on the site we're visiting. Why bother?

  5. Therefore, what actual harm does it/can it do to allow any and all posts pertaining to the English language to wash up on the shores of the proposed Using the English Language StackExchange Site? (Proposed name subject to debate, further suggestions, voting, and so on.)

  6. Yes, I do mean and propose one conjoined, ecumenical site for all.

I'll be hiding out in that cave over there if you want me.

  • 16
    I agree. Actually I do not see any difference between the two sites. Indeed, during the last days the questions asked on ELL, and their answers, are more interesting than those asked on EL&U. Merging the two site is a great idea. +1 – user51029 Sep 16 '13 at 9:51
  • @AtsutoNagatomo: I don't think this was a call to merge, more a call to be more accepting in each separate site. – Mitch Sep 16 '13 at 12:54
  • if it's not a merge, then won't we just get double confusion ? @ John - a careful read of your OP does suggest you want both sites to exist - you leave that unsaid, but hint that "we don't need dividing lines." Could you clarify what you see, please ? – Howard Pautz Sep 17 '13 at 17:09
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    I liked your original post more than the edited one. Yes, I love English, but if I wanted to spend my time answering "Is it 'I agree' or 'I am agree'"/"What is the subjunctive?" I would become an English/ESL/EFL teacher. I don't object to these questions existing, but I fear that a joint English Language site will attract so many of them that the interesting questions will be drowned, the experts will stop visiting, and the site becomes just another forum where the blind lead the blind. (This is a constant nightmare for mods on all SE sites, which are supposed to attract experts in the field). – Tim Lymington supports Monica Sep 18 '13 at 9:56
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    Agrred. As a mere occasional visitor here, and only a lurker in the other place, I never understood the logic of creating a separate site in the first place (and said so during Area51). The existence of these two sites is seeking to draw a line in the sand that is not definable - it is better to have one strong site with a clear outer boundary, rather than two sites squabbling over common ground. – Andrew Sep 18 '13 at 13:29
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    @TimLymington I liked my original post better, for its succinctness and literary beauty. I suspect you had other reasons; what were they? Was it truly not clear I was advocating a merging of the sites? – John M. Landsberg Sep 18 '13 at 20:51
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    Your edit has a lot of appeal, but I think @Tim 's concerns are real. I believe 'people' and 'human race' are synonyms – if you think they are separate, can you please elaborate? Are 'go through' and 'get through' interchangeable? My friend doesn't speak often to me, is it correct to ask "Why you are talking sporadically to me?" Someone sent a message to me after I left the office – how can I write to him today to say that I was not here and now this is my response? Some of these are cool questions, but not necessarily what a lot of ELUers want to spend their time reviewing and answering. – J.R. Sep 20 '13 at 12:58
  • Now I'm tracking up and down votes. As I write this, it's +12, -8. Isn't that unusual? Is there a badge for "question with 20 votes almost evenly split?" ;) – John M. Landsberg Sep 21 '13 at 16:15
  • Interesting... this related question was not nearly so evenly split. – J.R. Sep 21 '13 at 17:46
  • 1
    @J.R. Yes, but that one was one of my "splitter" diatribes. This one is my "lumper" apologia. :) – John M. Landsberg Sep 21 '13 at 17:51
  • Here's a question on ELL that looks like it would be perfect for ELU: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/10785/… – TecBrat Sep 27 '13 at 14:22
12

I admit that I haven't spent much time on eiter ELL and ELU and I haven't done any systematic research, so this post will be based on anecdotes rather than statistically significant samples.

The difference in terms of official scope between ELL and ELU is minimal. The following topics are listed on both sides:

  • Word choice and usage
  • Grammar
  • Dialect differences
  • Spelling and punctuation

ELL adds “Practical problems you encounter while learning English” — whatever that is supposed to cover. (Maybe “practical problems you encounter while teaching English” would have more semantic content.) It's unclear to me how such problems would be off-topic on ELU.

ELU adds “Pronunciation (phonetics and phonology, dialectology)”. I don't see how these topics would be off-topic on ELL (perhaps the intent is that ELL would focus on usage while ELU would tend to veer more into linguistics). ELU also adds “Etymology (history of words’ development)” which is explicitly excluded from ELL. That's a pretty minor difference all things considered.

This leaves the audience as the sole differenciation factor between ELL and ELU. ELL is for “people who are learning or teaching English as a foreign language” while ELU is for “linguists, etymologists, and (serious) English language enthusiasts”. The upshot is that threads on ELL are more likely to veer towards teaching to non-natives (with more formalized grammar, special attention paid to false friends, etc.) while threads on ELU are more likely to veer towards scientific concepts from linguistics.

In summary the two sites accept essentially the same questions but invite different kinds of answers. This is not necessarily a bad thing. There are precedents with Stack Exchange sites whose scope significantly overlaps but that target on different audiences, however in all other cases the ground covered by one of the sites is significantly larger than that covered by the other site.

For example, Unix & Linux is mostly but not exclusively a subset of Super User and is a superset of Ask Ubuntu. AU in particular tends to invite different kinds of answers from U&L for similar questions (one site caters more towards novice Ubuntu users while the other caters more towards advanced users, not unlike ELL vs ELU — however the difference is more subtle than this). U&L vs AU is however a special case in two ways: Ask Ubuntu has official ties with Ubuntu, which would not be possible with a less focused site; and the volume of AU is about 5 times that of U&L and roughly equal to that of SU despite the scope hierarchy.

In the case of ELL and ELU, do the different leanings really matter in practice? In my experience, not really. A majority of posts on ELL involve no pedagogy and a majority of posts on ELU do not involve linguistics, so they would be suitable for either site.

The main difference I've observed between ELL and ELU is what happens when a question can be answered either with a simple answer (“phrase A is better than phrase B”) or with a detailed analysis (showing other possibilities, discussing historical, geographical and sociological trends, providing insights by relating to other expressions, etc.). On ELL, the question either lucks out and gets a good answer, or is poorly received and gets a one-line answer. On ELU, the question either lucks out and gets a good answer, or gets closed. It seems to me that ELL and ELU are on par when it comes to generating good answers, and only differ in how they react to questions that are perceived as uninteresting. (Both sites often fail to capture the interest in questions that could be much more than “should I say A or B?”.)

Matt describes the difference between ELL and ELU in different terms:

  • IMO, ELU is about the research of the English Language and analysis of English usage
  • IMO, ELL is really about helping people learn to communicate effectively in modern, everyday English

I don't see a dichotomy here. “Communicating effectively in modern, everyday English” is something that can be the subject of research and analysis.

terdon and Bradd Szonye express different points of view, and I think terdon's phrasing covers both answers's main sentiment: ELL is for practical advice, ELU is for pedantry. That is a dichotomy, but a false one. Good ELL answers are not weak. A good ELL answer should say: “textbooks say X, but everybody except the Queen writes Y and pronounces Z”. A bad ELU answer is equally bad on ELL. A good ELU answer may mention nuances relevant only to Shakespeare scholars — but so would an ELL answer if the asker was reading Shakespeare.

I don't often have questions about English, but when I do these days I have no idea where I should ask. Should I ask on ELL since by definition I am a learner, not a native speaker? Or is my English good enough to be accepted in the big boys' site? Should I ask on ELU since I appreciate well-researched and documented answers? Or should I on ask ELL since I would benefit from natives' intuition? I've read quite a few of these “ELL vs ELU” meta threads (though admittedly not all of them by a long shot), and I'm as puzzled as ever.

All in all, I don't see such a major difference between ELL and ELU, neither in the kinds of questions that are well-received, nor in the quality of answers that they generate.

The fact that the difference is endlessly debated and that after months of debate no consensus has been reached is a big hint that the difference doesn't really exist.

  • The fact that you are not a native speaker is irrelevant in your case. Unless you got someone else to ghost write this answer for you, i'd say your english usage (and style) is perfect. +1 for the arguments, too. – Martin F Mar 2 '14 at 7:34
11

Weak questions don't bother me nearly as much as weak answers.

Even very basic questions often offer opportunities to analyze some quirk of the language. There's etymology, there's comparison to related languages that went in a different direction, there's regional differences, there are (sometimes obscure) stylistic options to choose from, there's all kinds of pedantry and trivia to indulge. When it comes to usage, I love answers that address all of the possibilities and when and why you'd use each one. I love answers that explore the history of a word or idiom with OED citations. That sort of thing is overwhelming to an English learner, but it's tons of fun for an English nerd.

Very basic answers bother me though. I'm tired of seeing answers to word requests that are basically just “How about foo?” – or even worse, “How about this list of random words only loosely connected to your request, not even the right part of speech.” I'm tired of seeing answers to usage questions that simply state, “Do it this way!” or “That's incorrect!” without any heed to alternatives or descriptivism, without any explanation of why the answer is correct. I'm tired of answers that use “what I learned in grade school” as a source.

A lot of those basic answers are fine advice, but they're boring for English nerds, and that's roughly where I see the divide between ELU and ELL. I agree with Matt's idea that ELU is for analysis and ELL for communication, although I would state it a little differently: ELU is for pedantry and ELL for advice. With that distinction, we can handle a lot of overlap in questions, simply by taking a different approach to answers. Also, I think it lets us refer people to ELL without being condescending: “Answers here may offer more detail than you need. For more practical advice, ask your question on [ell.se].”

  • 3
    I like this answer a lot, but it leaves me wondering what aspect of it suggests a need for two separate sites? It almost seems to me that it could be used to support a push for a blended site. – John M. Landsberg Sep 19 '13 at 5:27
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    @JohnM.Landsberg No, because then the academic (analytical) answers would get all mixed up with the practical answers. – Andrew Leach Sep 19 '13 at 6:45
  • What follows from such a policy, though, is that the community and particularly the moderators have to be absolutely ruthless about eliminating "advice" answers. And it would help if the "Your Answer" box had some cue text in it advising of the necessity for analysis. – Andrew Leach Sep 19 '13 at 6:49
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    @AndrewLeach Sorry? I'm not following you. What is the "Your Answer" box? It must be the answer I posted here to my own question, I assume, but "cue text?" Necessity for analysis? Aren't those givens? Or what? What am I missing? Help me out here. – John M. Landsberg Sep 19 '13 at 19:49
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    And yes, the academic and "practical" answers would indeed get mixed up. I'm asking what's wrong with that. – John M. Landsberg Sep 19 '13 at 19:50
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    @John The "Your Answer" box is the white box at the bottom of the page below the text "Your Answer" and above the button "Post Your Answer". "Cue text" is the prompt/help text which disappears when you click in it (like comment boxes). And the number of answers in ELU which do not show any analysis means that it is not a given. – Andrew Leach Sep 19 '13 at 19:51
  • @AndrewLeach Thanks. Now that you've explained it, I realize I knew all that, and the only reason I asked for clarification was that I MISread your comment as being specifically directed at (and critical of) the answer I had posted here to my own question, and that confused me. Duh. No problem now. Thanks again. – John M. Landsberg Sep 19 '13 at 20:45
  • It's not necessarily bad to mix up pedantry and advice. The two kinds of answers do have different audiences, though (with some significant overlap). Where the audiences don't overlap, I get the impression that they find the “wrong” kind of answer unhelpful or annoying. I personally enjoy giving either kind of answer – pedantry is fun, and help is rewarding – but I really only enjoy reading the pedantic answers, which is why I haven't had much interest in ELL. – Bradd Szonye Sep 19 '13 at 23:21
  • +1 for the first sentence. Any teacher learns how to deal with poor questions -- you answer the question they meant to ask, but didn't know how to. I have cut down a great deal on making official answers here because if I did answer a question which already has a lot of weak answers, it looks like I'm dissing the people with the other answers. And I'm not here to do that. I'm here to answer questions, not to flame anybody, and not to compete for points. Points are irrelevant, as is most of the other bureaucracy here, imo. – John Lawler Sep 27 '13 at 22:50
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    Weak answers are as much of a problem on ELL as on ELU. How does this relate to a divide between the sites? – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Nov 14 '13 at 22:14
10

As one of the moderators over on ELL, I disagree with the premise that ELL and ELU are fundamentally too similar, although I'll certainly agree that there is a great deal of confusion as to where that dividing line lives.

Personally I think the confusion isn't going away. ELL has been around for about six months and just this week there's been at least three metas on ELU where people were confused about ELL versus ELU, and at least two metas on ELL asking the same thing.

I also think that a lot of the confusion lies with the names of ELU and ELL being too broad, which means that whether a question belongs on ELL or ELU is far too subjective at the moment: practically any interesting question on ELU can be construed as "English Language and Usage", even if it would clearly be a better fit on ELL. And any half-assed badly worded question on ELU can easily be construed as being asked by an "English Language Learner", and hence we see loads of terrible (and often off-topic) questions on ELU being suggested for migration to ELL.

What would be nice is if ELL and ELU agreed on a more concrete and easy-to-understand scope that has less overlap, which would leave less subjectivity in whether a question belongs on ELL or ELU, and which isn't off-putting to questioners when they are politely asked to ask their question on the other site.

I've written in somewhat more detail over here, but in summary, the most concise and clear scope definitions I could come up with are:

  • IMO, ELU is about the research of the English Language and analysis of English usage

  • IMO, ELL is really about helping people learn to communicate effectively in modern, everyday English

Hopefully those two definitions aren't too controversial and is hopefully also a whole ton clearer than the current definitions which lead to five metas a week of people throwing their hands up in confusion.

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    I certainly think it would be a good idea if ELU closed the door on all questions asking anything along the lines of is this correct?, or how do I say/write this?. My understanding is the core of the site should be concerned with issues of interest to people who know perfectly well how to use the language at the "intuitive" level. And most single-word-requests are only interesting in the sense that some non-native speakers seem to think there might be a word for anything. Learners often just clog up ELU and overshadow what little good stuff there is, to my mind. – FumbleFingers Sep 17 '13 at 4:49
  • @FumbleFingers: Part of the reason I'm going with this distinction is because I fundamentally believe that most "single word requests" and "phrase requests" (and frankly any other "requests") are much more to do with being able to communicate English than about analysis of English that ELU is particularly good at. – Matt Sep 17 '13 at 18:27
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    But it's a two way street. ELU must not be defined as "questions that are interesting". A great question about programming belongs on SO and a great question about everyday English belongs on ELL. My biggest worry about ELL is that learners go to english.SE (which resolves to ELU) and then post great questions that belong on ELL, and that ELU does not yield them because they are "interesting", leading to a confusion as to what the point of ELL is, and starving ELL of the good questions that it deserves. – Matt Sep 17 '13 at 18:30
  • @FumbleFingers: I just asked one of those questions and I certainly am a native speaker that has both an intuitive and grammatical understanding of the language. Feel free to migrate my question if it belongs on the companion site... although it certainly is a usage question and I feel like if this is where the boundaries are being drawn then the names need to change. – Ben Voigt Sep 21 '13 at 1:10
  • And what about "communicate effectively in technical English" (which is where my question really falls -- it's outside both of those domains)? Should such questions go on a technical site instead? I'm not sure spelling questions would be welcome there... – Ben Voigt Sep 21 '13 at 1:14
  • @Matt: Have a look at english.stackexchange.com/questions/128096/strain-gauge-or-gage . Where does it belong? Here or some mechanical engineering site? Like I said, I don't expect them to welcome spelling questions there. – Ben Voigt Sep 21 '13 at 1:28
  • @BenVoigt: If you are asking about a domain specific word's meaning in that community, ask at the relevant Stack Exchange (e.g. "What is a Black Hole?" belongs on Physics.SE). If your question is about communicating English, it belongs on ELL (e.g. "What does 'Black hole' mean in the headline 'Obamacare is a federal black hole'?"). If your question is about the evolution or usage of the language itself, it belongs on ELU (e.g. "When did politicians start using 'black hole' to mean a project that sucks up lots of money?" belongs on ELU). – Matt Sep 21 '13 at 1:29
  • @BenVoigt: That question is a pretty clear-cut example of a question that belongs on ELL (although barely - you'd need to include research about how you looked it up in a dictionary). It's about how to correctly communicate about "a device that measures tensile or compressive force" to another speaker of English. It is not technical enough that it needs to be asked on Physics.SE (if in doubt, post on ELL and we'll migrate it) and it's not about how the word "strain gauge" has evolved, or how it interacts with the language, so it's not a good fit for ELU. – Matt Sep 21 '13 at 1:31
  • @Matt: Ok, I'll flag it for migration. It wouldn't fit on an ME site because I'm not confused about the meaning or whether I'm using the right term, just which of several competing spellings is correct. – Ben Voigt Sep 21 '13 at 1:33
  • @Ben: I have no more power than you to migrate questions (probably less in the specific case of migrating your own question, since one would expect the mods to give greater weight to such a request from the OP). But although you framed the gauge/gage question as "which spelling is correct?", I think there might well be an interesting "backstory" as to why the logical spelling shot to prominence in post-war US, then fell off later. OED just says The spelling gauge prevails in this country ... the more normal gage has been adopted in recent American Dicts (*guage is a mere blunder).* – FumbleFingers Sep 21 '13 at 14:39
  • Lumping them together makes a lot of sense to me. Otherwise it would make sense to sub-divide it even further. English for Academics, English for the Layperson and ELL. Sometimes a layperson who is a native speaker (like me) will have a question that is best answered by someone in academia, but it wouldn't fit well in ELL, so where does that question go? – TecBrat Sep 27 '13 at 12:42
  • @TecBrat: If the question is about helping you to communicate better in English, it belongs on ELL. Many of the answers on ELL are very academic (StoneyB is one of our best answerers, and his answers are always extremely well researched, and he is at least as academic as anyone here on ELU). The difference between ELL and ELU is not who the communities are; it's the angle of the question. If the question is fundamentally an academic/research type question, it belongs on ELU. If it's a question about helping to OP communicate better English, it belongs on ELL. – Matt Sep 27 '13 at 18:34
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    I would seriously disagree with the proposition that "ELU is about the research of the English Language and analysis of English usage". It's nothing like that. It's a bunch of opinions, with little analysis and almost no research (unless you count trotting out the catechism of shibboleths "reseach"). – John Lawler Nov 21 '13 at 22:14
  • @Matt: You're not gonna like this, but, i been speaking english all my life and i'll NEVER ask a question on ELL because i aint an E L L. You can repeat your distinctions all day and every day, but i Learnt English 50 years ago. I may wish to improve my English Usage, and i'll do it right here! – Martin F Mar 2 '14 at 7:22
7

As a non native with what I believe to be a proficient command of the language I visit both EL&U and ELL on occasions. Except on very basic questions that would be closed on ELU I don't really see much of a difference.
Latest examples: this question asked on EL&U is to me very basic, the meaning of "but for" is understood by most English natives, and the explanation is found in any dictionary1 without much effort. Nevertheless it was not redirected to ELL and answered on EL&U.
StoneyB's answer and following comments to a question that fits ELL requirements is in no way an answer suited for ELL. Obviously I am not objecting to his having given us this example, but I am sure lots of natives with already a great command of English would have been happy to read it, but they won't unless they visit EL&U (for whatever reason).
That was just an example, both ways, over the months I have found others. I strongly believe the line between both sites is very thin and that audiences from both sites can benefit at times from all answers.
So, yes I'm joining John M. Landsberg's proposal.

1 For example here or here.

6

I agree with Matt's answer. The main reason I enjoy ELU so much is the high level of detail that some answers give. Take these two for example:

I find these answers to be very informative and instructive and fun to decipher. I am not a language expert by any measure but I know enough to be able to understand, if not produce, such answers. On the other hand, this level of detail is pretty much useless to someone who is learning the language.

My understanding is that this site was originally conceived as a playground for academics and linguists. While I am neither, as a native speaker and language geek I get a huge kick out of some of the answers here. They make me think, and teach me aspects of the language I had not considered.

So, some observations about merging the sites:

  • It will likely result in non-natives getting scary and essentially incomprehensible answers;
  • The 'hardcore' ELU users will stop answering because they no longer find the questions interesting (this is already happening, I remember reading a meta thread a while back where some of our highest rep and most knowledgeable users were complaining about not finding it fun anymore).
  • I feel a lot of us enjoy 'out-pedanting' each other, that can only be done among people with a certain facility with the language, it is neither fair nor funny and will be perceived as an attack if done to someone trying their best to learn.
  • There are many, many sites out there to help English languauge learners and ELL is yet another one built using the SE model we like so much. There really isn't anything like ELU around, where will the language geeks go if we change the scope?
  • On a more personal note, I am a native speaker of English who has spent all but 4 years of his life in non-English speaking countries. Coming here is like a breath of fresh air for me, I don't need to limit my own vocabulary and I sometimes have to look up words that other people use. I love it!

I may also participate on ELL (I barely have so far), but I would stop coming here if the sites were merged, it would no longer be fun for me.


EDIT: I just found that meta post where the high rep users were expressing their displeasure with the simplification of the site, it was your question! I take it you have changed your mind? :)

  • I think you meant ELU and not ELL in your introduction :) – Mari-Lou A Sep 16 '13 at 21:26
  • @Mari-LouA so I did, thanks! – terdon Sep 16 '13 at 21:31
  • @Mari-LouA, maybe it was a lapsus! – user51029 Sep 16 '13 at 21:57
  • @AtsutoNagatomo perhaps :). I do get confused with all these acronyms, I have to admit. – terdon Sep 16 '13 at 22:01
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    You make a lot of points here - many of which I strongly agree with, and none of which cause me serious misgivings. I suppose I ought to be ashamed of myself for admitting it, but your playground for academics and linguists [and bluffers like me! :] who can enjoy 'out-pedanting' each other really strikes a chord. The site will descend into aimless (and often, incorrect) trivia if people who actually know English can't get their rocks off. And teaching really basic English can get pretty boring. – FumbleFingers Sep 17 '13 at 5:08
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    @FumbleFingers my feelings exactly. I ain't no linguist but I sure am a pedant (that's why I added language geeks) :). I was thinking of a little comment 'war' you and I had a while back when I wrote that, which is exactly the kind of thing I most enjoy here. – terdon Sep 17 '13 at 5:10
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    @ terdon: Perhaps more than most, I tend to go for the "adversarial" style of debate (aka "argument", to those who don't! :). But as well as enjoying the cut & thrust, point-scoring, etc. that I get with you and others, I do actually end up learning things myself. Bizarrely, although it tends to get up my nose at the time, in the long run I think I get my biggest kicks from losing a debate. Because it invariably implies I was originally mistaken about something, and have eventually learned the error of my ways. That's definitely the best kind of learning, to my mind. – FumbleFingers Sep 17 '13 at 5:40
  • Yes, I have changed my mind. I have thought about it a lot, and I realized I was having trouble seeing my own point. Take a look at my addendum to my post here. – John M. Landsberg Sep 17 '13 at 19:40
  • I see an echo here of ongoing discussions we have on ServerFault... (the second site of the original StackOverflow "Trilogy"). The site is defined as being for professional sysadmins, and we have concerns about hardcore admins being driven away by the endless flood of basic questions. – Ward - Reinstate Monica Sep 20 '13 at 4:03
  • @Ward yes, it is indeed similar. By the way, if they're simple but *nix, send them over to us on Unix & Linux. – terdon Sep 20 '13 at 4:11
  • It's a good thing it's not Enterprise Unix and Linux or you'd be sorting out ELL, ELU, EUL... – Ward - Reinstate Monica Sep 20 '13 at 4:56
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    I spose I hafta comment here, since you showcased one of my answers (thanks for the kind words) and pointed in the edit to the previous item, where I commented too. I think both of these SE's are misguided, frankly, and I don't participate in the new "learners" one (for one thing, I can't register because it doesn't like my password). I can't agree that telling people the truth instead of dumbing it down like textbooks and teachers do is a bad strategy. The one thing teachers must avoid is lying to students. – John Lawler Sep 27 '13 at 22:58
  • @Ward - Surely there's also a need for Unix & Linux Enthusiasts as well as Unix & Linux Learners - to add to the mix. – Martin F Mar 2 '14 at 7:55
4

I'm going to use an answer box to grab this bag full of cats, swing it around, and toss it in yet another direction.

ELU friends, here's a single-word request: What's that word for continuing to fight on gamely after the battle is already lost?

I detect a substantial amount of sentiment in favor of a merge, but I think the majority still comes down in favor of two distinct sites. But after all this time, and all this debate, look at how confusion reigns. Look how incredibly many ELL questions corruscate through ELU. Think about how many always will.

While we were building walls, they were tunneling underneath. We have met the enemy, and they are us. We have become what we feared most. We are bailing out a sunken ship. Shall I go on? I'm having fun with the metaphors. :)

In other words, it's too late, and there's no point. We can keep arguing about this, or we can realize that no matter what we do, the sites are blended, and always will be blended, and we probably ought to figure out a way to blend them constructively and effectively, rather than wringing our hands and trying to prevent something that has already happened. We're fighting a battle that ended without us.

Remember the knight in the forest in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who kept claiming he would defeat King Arthur even as he continued to lose limb after limb?

My point? We can debate this until we're blue in the face, but I do not believe that there is any way really and truly to keep the sites separate. It's not gonna happen, folks.

So let's welcome the neighbors. :)

  • 2
    A downvote without comment on META? Are you kidding me? Of course, I guess it simply means whoever the downvoter is thinks this answer is just plain stupid. But, really? Make your point, Mercutio. Prove me wrong, I say. – John M. Landsberg Sep 18 '13 at 22:16
  • I agree. Actually I do not see any difference between the two sites. Indeed, during the last days the questions asked on ELL, and their answers, are more interesting than those asked on EL&U. Merging the two site is a great idea. +1 – user51029 Sep 18 '13 at 23:00
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Should we perhaps say that any question asked on ELU that is clearly from a foreign learner at beginner or intermediate level wil automatically be transferred to ELL?

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    I think ELU needs to decide what it wants to be. Either open the floodgates (and consider ELL a failed experiment), or migrate more questions. – J.R. Sep 16 '13 at 21:12
  • @J.R., maybe the problem is that closing the floodgates doesn't match the SE general guidelines -- e.g., what Jeff Atwood says. – user51029 Sep 16 '13 at 22:07
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    Does 'foreign' include Indian? American if you are British? Yorkshire if you are from Lancashire? More seriously, though a learner is more likely to ask a GR/trivial question, they often raise interesting points, sometimes accidentally. The ELU/ELL distinction applies to questions, not users: meta.english.stackexchange.com/a/3723/8019 – Tim Lymington supports Monica Sep 16 '13 at 22:37
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    @Atsuto - Jeff Atwood says a lot of things. It's possible to be inundated, and inundation isn't always a good thing. The quality of a stack exchange site will rise and fall with the quality of that site's questions. – J.R. Sep 16 '13 at 23:25
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    @TimLymington: You raise an interesting point which I tried to tackle over on ELL's meta here (meta.ell.stackexchange.com/questions/782/…). IMO, I think ELL isn't (or perhaps shouldn't) be about the nationality of the questioner, but rather more to do with whether the questioner wants an answer that helps them communicate in everyday English (versus on ELU, which is more about study of English, than finding out how to communicate in it). – Matt Sep 17 '13 at 1:38
  • ..contd... Hence Indian or Yorkshire or any other speakers should ask on ELU if they are trying to study English. And they should ask on ELL if they are trying to communicate more effectively in modern, everyday English. – Matt Sep 17 '13 at 1:40
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    @Matt: I can't go with that distinction. Studying sounds like learning to me. Let people use textbooks (or ELL) for that kind of stuff. I want to see questions that interest ME. Even though it often turns out such questions don't have a definitive answer, kicking an issue around often does reveal new insights for me personally. But quite frankly, questions about correct spelling, punctuation, vocabulary, etc., are for the birds (and students/learners). – FumbleFingers Sep 17 '13 at 5:22
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    @ Barrie: I'm not convinced the questioner's nationality/native language is central. To me it's more a matter of whether the actual answer to the question is one that would seem trivial to the average native speaker. – FumbleFingers Sep 17 '13 at 5:25
  • @FumbleFingers: If you don't like my choice of the word study, how about the word analyze? – Matt Sep 17 '13 at 18:23
  • @Matt: I think study/analyse may indeed represent the tipping point for me. Perhaps because I see study as meaning learn what others already know, and are trying to teach you, whereas analyse is more about identify and correlate characteristics, and create new knowledge. – FumbleFingers Sep 17 '13 at 18:38
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    @FumbleFingers: OK. I agree. "Study" is perhaps too loaded a term. IMO, if you ask a question about English in order to become better at communicating in English, it belongs on ELL. If you are asking because you are researching or analysing the language and its usage (whether formally or not), or because you are just curious, it belongs on ELU. So perhaps the boundary is really ELL=everyday English, ELU=analysis/research of English Language and Usage. – Matt Sep 17 '13 at 18:41
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    For example, "Must I capitalize the first letter of a sentence?" asked on ELU should garner the pedantic but correct answer: "Nope. It's artistic preference. And besides, a long time ago we didn't even have lower case letters. And it became a norm in year X", and on ELL should garner a "more immediately useful" answer like "Yes. Always capitalize the first letter of your sentence. That's how English works." – Matt Sep 17 '13 at 18:46
  • The difference is that the "ELU answer" there isn't helping someone communicate better in English (it's actually a really bad answer if that was what the questioner wanted), and the ELL answer doesn't go into the depth that someone who is doing serious research or is just very curious would perhaps want. To me this is a demonstrating that the missions of ELL and ELU are different, and that this is where the dividing line should be. – Matt Sep 17 '13 at 18:47
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    @Matt: I'd already upvoted your answer here, because your two bullet points reflect my own position as well as anything I've seen so far. But your last couple of comments have got me to thinking the standard line "It's all about the question, not the questioner or the answers" really is a bit glib. So here's yet another "demarcation definition"... If the (potentially hypothetical) ideal answer is primarily concerned with helping people communicate better in English, it's ELL. If it's mainly concerned with analysing "known" usages, it's ELU. – FumbleFingers Sep 17 '13 at 20:45
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    @Matt Yes, capital letters became the norm in Year X; in years ix and before, only lowercase letters were used. – tchrist Sep 20 '13 at 19:47
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For the short version, skip to the last word in this answer.

For the details, please read on ...

For some weeks as a highly interest Noob, I've been watching the ELL versus ELU match. Jumping in the ring, I wrangled with unexpected hubris. Count me now among those throwing their hands up in annoyance, bewildered, wondering if this is the place to be.

There should be no such consternation for any user on any Stack Exchange site. Sorry, you all are no exception.

I also mentioned essentially the same bullet points as Matt elsewhere:

ELU = academic English
ELL = everyday English

... only to watch the downvotes start. (Maybe they didn't like a rank Noob pointing out that the Emperor has only two pairs of shoes, but no clothes. Or perhaps the two shoes just don't fit, constituting poor differentiation.)

Although Matt's answer has merit, I am concerned that it will not suffice. The tumult of discussion stems from what I would call the boundary separation problem. This is a Stack Exchange problem generally, caused partly by the increasing number of sites requiring some division lines be drawn. ELL and ELU are not the first to experience this. (Ask the programmers about StackOverflow vs Code Review vs etc.)

I see the same thing here, only in different clothes. But for ELL vs. ELU, I suspect the boundary issues won't worsen over time, rather the stuff will just get rehashed, the same "move to site X from Y with explainer," wastefully consuming user time and strength, and, as it has already, moderator resources.

To me, even Matt's clearer description earlier of the ELL-ELU boundary seems contrived to make the sites' separation work better (or even work at all).

Many instances come to mind where "analysis of usage" helps me "communicate [more] effectively." Conversely, questions about "everyday English" can lead to academic research - it depends on the how the question is phrased, does it not?

The questioner's writing style might make it clear on what "level" they intend their question to stand, but maybe not. For instance, a non-native speaker might make a usage slip - so it "seems basic and everyday" so off the post trots to ELL, if it were on ELU. But if he or she is very good and asks the same question on ELU, perhaps adding in merely the word "how" or "why," the answer could go deep. And here's a revealing point: if that were posted on ELL (not ELU) it probably would stay on ELL and not be migrated, right?

So to sum up why I think ELU and ELL need to be merged back, and the ELU folks learn happily to help the new learners who also love language, while the ELL people can enjoy more depth, here is the one word that shows why boundaries will remain hard to demarcate. Please think on the ramifications of

Prepositions.

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    To me, the ramifications of prepositions is that learners are always asking for advice on which ones to use where. They should be doing that on ELL. Incisive questions regarding the nature of diversity, and emerging new preposition usage, can be very desirable on ELU - but only insofar as they're about analysing change and "deep" principles, not when they're just about identifying "correct" usage. – FumbleFingers Sep 17 '13 at 5:32
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    It was never supposed to be an "ELL versus ELU match" – it was supposed to be a partnership. One potential problem with a merge is what drove the creation of ELL to begin with. When ELU gets flooded with basic, non-native, English learner questions, it diminishes the appeal of the site for many. When ELU gets dozens questions daily that ask "What does I have got some time on my hands mean?" a lot of folks might check out. Those are fair questions for the English learner, but they are not what ELU had in mind when ELU was created. – J.R. Sep 17 '13 at 10:18
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    We can close/downvote questions that are too basic or inadequately researched, but then we face allegations of being a bunch of snobs. I still think this could work if more folks used ELL from the start, but, for whatever reason, a lot of first-timers are still taking their ELL questions to ELU. – J.R. Sep 17 '13 at 10:20
  • @FumbleFingers yes, and then more ... what's weird to me is how many "how do I write" or "how do I use" aka correct-usage questions were (and are) showing up on ELU - I consistently found myself scrolling up to the page header to make sure I was in ELU (... until I noticed the background color difference :)) So, the problem is the ginormous nature of language - it's like a huge bowl of Jello - you can't slice it into two clean pieces left or right, nor into levels shallow or deep. If you try, you're gonna have wiggly pieces running all over... – Howard Pautz Sep 17 '13 at 15:50
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    @J.R. I think there are two fundamental problems that cause language learners to come here rather than ELL first: 1) This site is not a beta, whereas ELL is. 2) This site is called "English Language & Usage" which seems to be the place to ask questions about how to use the English language to a newcomer. – called2voyage Sep 17 '13 at 16:04
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    @J.R. "First-timers take their ELL questions to ELU" because the site is English.SE. If ELL were "English" and ELU were "UseOfEnglish.SE", ELL would get first dibs and could migrate questions to ELU if desirable. – Andrew Leach Sep 17 '13 at 17:45
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    Although you claim that my separation of everyday/academic English is arbitrary (which it is), the difference is really what the questioner wants from the question. If you are asking a question about English in order to become better at communicating in it, then your question belongs on ELL. If you are asking a question about English because you are researching how the language is used, or are just curious, it belongs on ELU. The words "everyday" versus "academic" are just shorthands for that principle, which IMO has very little overlap in practice. – Matt Sep 17 '13 at 18:38
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    @Howard - I wonder sometimes if it's not so much that there's widespread "disagreement on the boundaries" as much as it is disagreement on how to accurately yet concisely explain where those boundaries are. We might take exception to a word like "foreign" or "study" or "academic" or "beginner", but, deep down, I suspect there could be more agreement here than one might initially suppose. – J.R. Sep 17 '13 at 19:06
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    @Andrew - That may be part of it. But I imagine myself as a Stack Exchange newcomer, wanting to ask "I am looking forward to taste/tasting your cookies." Which is it? Assuming I even bother to read the help pages (which may be wishful thinking, but that's another matter), where are the clues on those pages that would prompt me to pause and say, "Hmm, maybe I should ask this on ELL instead?" There's not much there. I'd like to see some blurbs put on those pages before we give up. – J.R. Sep 17 '13 at 19:17
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    @Matt it seems as if the users who've been here a while are trying to convince the rest of us that the differences should be easy to see. (Sightly chiding you :) Objectively they are not, if it requires all those comments above to clarify. I've seen it pointed out in other threads that the name of ELU is partly problematic: "Usage" could be simple or deep. That's why so many noobs and non-natives with low reps keep posting on EL"Usage" as has been pointed out. Too late to (re)name ELU to "AC" and ELL to "LEU" - Academic English and Learn English Usage, respectively. That would solve it all! – Howard Pautz Sep 20 '13 at 23:37
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    @HowardPautz: It doesn't matter who asked. That question belongs on ELL because it is about how to communicate in real modern day English. And the answer is we choose "a" because "history" is pronounced /ˈhist(ə)rē/, and because the "h" is audible, we choose "a" (contast "honour/honor" pronounced /änər/ which therefore gets "an"). – Matt Sep 21 '13 at 0:03
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    Without taking the time to read all the responses before, I'll just respond to one point in the answer -- there is no real difference between "academic English" and "everyday English". There is merely a difference between real English (i.e, spoken English), which is the one that has all the rules, and written English, which is not a language but a (fairly poor, but serviceable) technology for representing real language. Sorta like driving a Model T on an Autobahn, and no wonder there are problems. – John Lawler Sep 27 '13 at 23:03
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    @J.R.: you can't blame first timers for taking their questions to ELU. How would they know? We can just experience that basic questions from people who even acknowledge English is not their first language ( latest example ) get upvoted and answered on ELU nearly on the spot. I think the problem is not what should go on ELU or ELL but human engineering. It does not work. – Laure Nov 18 '13 at 7:47
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    ... and things would sort themselves out. Sorry, if, as I've read, the power users or linguists are 'above' dealing with novice questions, then I can only pity them for their close-mindedness and would prod them to remember when they were students. This whole 'deal' is just a silly, false philosophical dilemma. Please wake up and smell the questions ... – Howard Pautz Nov 19 '13 at 19:20
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    @J.R. It's not or, rather and. The line may be the cause of failure. I don't understand why folks can not just mentally filter out uninteresting questions. Or have a global, meta-like tag that says "advanced" or some such. That one tag would effectively divide one site into two. So instead of quibbling over what goes where, moving posts hither, thither, or n-either, all mods would have to do is tag or untag a post. Done! If that seems a good idea, I could post it on meta (and probably watch my reps nose dive :^) BTW, J.R. I'd certainly not tag you of all people as'close minded'! – Howard Pautz Nov 25 '13 at 21:13

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