9

It seems as though English users in general are somewhere along the spectrum from highly conservative (who resist changes to language usage) to highly progressive (who embrace changes to language usage).

Imagine the following questions

  1. Should there be a hyphen in 'today'?
  2. Should there be a hyphen in 'email'?
  3. Is it okay to use 'fun' as an adjective?
  4. Is it okay to use the abbreviation "there's" even when it is short for "there are"?
  5. Is it 'all right' or 'alright'?

Depending on where one is on the spectrum, there will be many different answers given, and it is unclear (to me at least) which should be accepted as a 'correct' answer.

How will the community deal with the types of debates that will ensue as a result of this?

15

To me, the correct answers to those questions look like this:

Prescriptivist A says you can't do X. Prescriptivist B agrees. Linguist C says A & B don't know what they're talking about and doing X is fine because of all the usage of X including in well-regarded formal written works.

alternate formulation:

Prescriptivist A says you must do X. Prescriptivist B agrees. Linguist C says A & B don't know what they're talking about and doing X is completely silly because there are no or very few examples of X in either informal speech or well-regarded formal written works.

or like this:

Prescriptivist A says you can't do X. Prescriptivist B agrees. Linguist C says A & B are right because no one actually does X, so doing X is ungrammatical.

alternate formulation:

Prescriptivist A says you must do X. Prescriptivist B agrees. Linguist C says A & B are right because everyone does X and the only examples of not doing X are obvious errors by foreigners or some such, so not doing X is ungrammatical.

with appropriate citations, of course.

I think answers that only cite conservative prescriptivist usage "experts" are likely to be downvoted especially if more liberal descriptive accounts of the usage in question exist that call the prescriptivists to task for ignoring the reality of actual usage.

But that's just my 2¢. I do have a skewed view of these kinds of issues.

  • I run pretty prescriptivist and I agree that these look like good forms for answers (though obviously in my examples, Linguist C says you can do something and Prescriptivist A says "wrong wrong wrong"). – J.T. Grimes Aug 18 '10 at 3:21
  • This is the best answer to any question I've read on any stackexchange meta site. – hippietrail May 10 '11 at 15:11
5

Debates only arise if we discuss about what "should" or "should not" be done, or what is "right" or "wrong", which is usually unnecessary. Ideally, in my (perhaps idiosyncratic) view, answers to the question would say what usage is common in what contexts, what the relative levels of formality suggested by the respective usages are, and so on — not tell the asker what to do as a "rule".

For instance, answers to your questions may be (to sketch very briefly what they may look like):

  • "to-day" and "e-mail" were once hyphenated but the hyphen has become rare and archaic in the former and a minority in the latter,
  • "fun" as an adjective is acceptable at all but the highest levels of formality, and that
  • "alright" and "there's" for "there are" are common in informal usage and present in print too, but may be considered ungrammatical by certain people.

(These are not well thought-out answers, so the reality may be different; I'm just mentioning these as the form answers may take.)

If we start arguing about what is "right" and "wrong", prescriptivists/conservatives will claim based on their own pet rules that something is wrong even when it's unremarkably common usage, and anti-prescriptivists will "prove" something is grammatical even if the usage is going to raise a few eyebrows — neither of which is helpful to the askers in understanding the issue and choosing the usage most appropriate for their audiences.

  • 1
    Compare and contrast: Your homework is all right; Your homework is alright. – TRiG Dec 1 '10 at 14:53

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