Over the past few years, I have spent some time on ELU and ELL. (I deleted several accounts, so my current account is very new, in case you are wondering.)

I understand that ELL was formed because of the dropping standard of questions asked by mostly learners of the language. If I recall correctly, however, Robert Cartaino never saw the need for a separate ELL, and it was Jeff Atwood's intervention that made ELL come into existence just before he left SE. (Forgive me if this is wrong.) At that time, I agreed with Robert's view that there should not be two separate sites. I will list a number of observations I have made which you may not agree with:

  1. In many cases, it is difficult and largely subjective where to draw the line between whether a question fits better on ELL or ELU. Many questions that can benefit one community of users also benefit the other, if one is seriously interested in the language.

  2. Learners of the language actually learn grammar formally and ask many interesting and technical questions about grammar on ELL that many native speakers do not know about. On the other hand, many native speakers actually ask questions such as single word requests which should not be the focus of ELU anyway.

  3. Many questions asked by learners are actually non-trivial but get interpreted as trivial by some native speakers. Hence they get downvoted and closevoted more than they actually deserve. Sometimes, a seemingly local question may be part of a larger, global theory of the language, and illuminating answers can salvage a less than perfectly phrased question.

  4. On some days, the quality of questions and answers on ELL seems way higher than that on ELU. ELU, despite what is advertised, is not actually for linguists, etymologists, and serious enthusiasts, and never will be. The point is that standards on ELL are so high and ELU so low that the two sites really are the same.

  5. It seems pretty arbitary which posts on ELU get migrated to ELL, and looking at some of these and how similar they are to other posts, we might as well migrate half of ELU to ELL. If the sites are merged, we will not waste time migrating questions between them, and the single merged site can benefit from shared human resources. It would be easier for genuine enthusiasts to see all questions at one glance, and users not interested in particular kinds of questions can just choose to ignore them.

Before you downvote this post, do spend at least a month on each of the two sites, and perhaps you will realise that you agree with me. I propose that ELU and ELL be merged, because they were never meant to be separate in the first place. Thank you for considering this suggestion.

(This post is also on ELL meta.)

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    "many native speakers actually ask questions such as single word requests which should not be the focus of ELU anyway." What's wrong with single word requests? Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 14:01
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    I agree with this proposal. ELU users should not fight over which questions belong on ELU and which on ELL. Japanese has only one SE and it is very well managed and it has only limited number of close reasons such as translation, proof-reading, resources and too basic questions such as character recognition. It's about time SE considered this issue seriously. ELU started as ELL and most Qs on ELU now are ELL Qs. Just because there are some etymology Qs (which are answered using internet resources such as etymo online) and linguistics Qs doesn't mean they can't be answered in one English site.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 14:11
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    I disagree. The better thing to do would be to move "english.SE" to ELL.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 14:15
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    The sad reality is that no rearrangement of sites will solve the problem of people asking questions they've made no attempt to answer themselves. Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 14:17
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    @curiousdannii That issue is more serious on ELL than ELU and could be discussed later. There are many SE sites that don't have "lack of research" close reasons, especially new sites.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 14:35
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    Thanks for raising the question. It's good to review this split from time to time. Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 14:37
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    @Rathony Yes, because new sites need to attract people to initially grow and thrive, and it's easier to manage a small number of enthusiastic and like-minded users. It's only when the site grows, and the public enters, that it becomes untenable. Then we need self-policing, i.e. standards, i.e. the expectation that adults will act like adults, and not jut throw up their hands and say "here, you do this for me". No, the ethic of "don't ask someone else to do something you are not willing to do for yourself" is, and must remain, foundational.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 17:47
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    (Incidentally, English sites are special in this regard among all other language sites, because English is currently the global language, so (a) there are many many more people trying to learn it than any other language and (b) and most people who are learning it are doing so for practical reasons, not simply for the love or interest in the language, as many are on Japanese.se and other sites.)
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 17:48
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    @DanBron As I repeatedly mentioned in the past, sometimes personally to you, the foundation is getting shakier as more users think ELU questions don't need prior research and "something you are willing to do" as long as they are asking about grammar. Program language is more universal than English and the number of questions on Stack Overflow is the evidence. Almost 20 to 25 questions are asked on Stack Overflow per minute and I don't see why they don't split SO based on ELU/ELL model. ELU receives only 60 Qs, ELL 40 per day. Why do you need 2 sites? How many Qs out of 60 are ELU Q?
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 17:54
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    Did you ask this same question on ELL?
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 17:56
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    @Rathony StackExchange was split. That's where the original trilogy came from. And while I'm sure volume played a part in the decision, the real deciding factor wasn't volume but the fact there were different audiences. Same as here and ELL. And as for "doing research about grammar": you cannot simply google the grammar used in a particular construction, or look it up in a universally-known resource like a dictionary, as you can for most of the lazy questions on this site. Grammar questions - real grammar questions - are precisely where I think SE's model of a network of experts shines.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 17:58
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    I think there are some valid arguments in favor of merging the two sites, but I also think most of the observations you have listed here and not good reasons to merge.
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 2:29
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    A lot of smart, thoughtful, public-spirited people at English Language & Usage consider the "No [or Inadequate] Research" close reason a crucial tool for maintaining quality control at this site. Nevertheless, I hate it; and if re-merging EL&U with ELL made it go away (in favor of a more relevant criterion such as "too localized" (that is, "of no interest to anyone other than the poster"), I would support the merger. But if your plan is to re-merge and keep the close reasons just as they are, I think you are advising EL&U and ELL to join hands and wade into a world-swamp of trouble.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 6:26
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    @WillHunting ELU already has many what can be considered basic, simple and under-researched questions and do you think that the most experienced and ferment supporters of "standards" will welcome another 30+ off-topic questions a day? Or won't they be p***ed off? And I'm not saying they would be wrong, because it does get wearisome to see basic, but idiosyncratic English questions, asked time and time again.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 10:34
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    @Mari-LouA Those issues are not important. We don't close ELL Qs on ELU and I think more than 80% of Qs on ELU are ELL Qs. Then, why do you need two sites? Also, close-reasons should be discussed later. Let's say you don't like grammar questions, you can just avoid reading them. The same can apply to SWR questions. What difference does it make when those questions are not in line with Stack Exchange guidelines whether to close it on ELU or on ELL? I don't see any difference. The biggest problem on ELU is users don't realize they are on ELL. ELU is ELL. There has been no ELU. They just dreamed.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 10:37

1 Answer 1


No mechanical changes will fix the problems with ELU because those problems are cultural. The site is inhabited by two tribes, each bearing a curse that keeps them locked in a deadly embrace of mutual incomprehension. The first group, which I have been known to call the CPVPV1 has a proprietary interest in the site, regarding it as a worthy research institution, part of the academy, if you will, and (as I also have been known to say) High Table at the Hall or the Fellows' Common Room at the College. For a glimpse of this attitude, you may go here where you'll find worries about the "drain on our site quality", the influx of "low quality contributions" that drive away the"experts we seek to attract", and a reminder that this is "a site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English-language experts." Now this last claim may be debatable2, but to be fair it's almost a verbatim description of the site from its Welcome page3, as those who enjoy the irony of that label may see by navigating there.

The group labors under the curse of knowledge. I take this phrase from Steven Pinker, who uses it in his book The Sense of Style to explain why experts often write so badly about what they know the best. Pinker means that experts know what they know and can no longer imagine not knowing it. They thus cannot tell when they've left out explication crucial to the understanding of non-experts. I adopt the term to mean people fluent in a language and unable to imagine what it's like not to be. This leads to the explanation that questions are "lazy" (see above), and by implication, so are the questioners. "Do the research!" is the j'accuse, and if the lazy would vanish, in the words of the post I cited, it would be "good riddance with bad rubbish!"4.

Those thus contemned are subject to a complementary curse, the curse of ignorance, and by this, I don't mean not knowing something. That is, after all, the human condition. I mean not knowing a critical organizing principle. This is hard to define for language, but it's the language processing that allows fluent speakers to automatically process syntax, idiom, collocations, irony, humor, etc. It's like breathing -- under conscious control when we focus; autonomic, when we don't.

<tl arg=dr>
Perhaps this is the organ that processes Chomsky's universal grammar, but since no one has ever seen such a thing, perhaps an example from another venue will serve as an analogy. The organizing principle of biology is evolution through natural selection, and in a famous paper, a notable biologist wrote Nothing in Biology Makes Sense except in the Light of Evolution. Before Darwin, biologists (who probably called themselves naturalists) proposed other explanations for the biosphere. Perhaps it's the split between sea and land that's important. Perhaps every terrestrial species has a thalassal counterpart. (Which is why we have sea horses and sea cows and sea oats.) In retrospect and with the advantage (and the curse) of knowledge, it's easy to laugh at these efforts. Without the organizing principle, investigators are mere collectors of facts and artifacts that don't fit together. Examples abound -- dynamics before Newton explained inertia, particle physics before electrochromodynamics5, to name just two.

This is not to say that ELU is not visisted by lazy seekers of easy answers for their homework. It is, but it's easy to forget how useless it is for many to hear the exhortations to do the research and consult the general references. The instructions for the research tools are written in idiomatic English, the answers are presented in idiomatic English, the exceptions are noted in idiomatic English, and the examples are given in idiomatic English. And as hard as it is for the fluent to understand, this will defeat people whose knowledge consists of an unorganized collection of facts about the language.

(And let's hope the unwary don't try typing their query in the ELU search box. They'll be directed to what I sometimes feel is Borgesian library, which will likely have their exact question and a correct answer, but also every question close but not quite apt and every possible answer including the misleading and the outright wrong. I'm a native speaker, and I'm afraid to go in there.)

Suppose this site were English Spelling and Orthography, which received questions like

I need to know how to spell a pulmonary disease that sounds like new-MOAN-yah. I checked and it doesn't start with the letter n.

Do the research, the OP is told, and he starts to work backwards from n, soon finding that

mnemonoic starts with a silent m. Does new-MOAN-yah?

Nope, try again, he's told, and off he goes finding silent and doubled letters. It will him take a while to circle back to the p's. His betters, of course, know the organizaing principle of etymology, the Greek part in this case.

I'm not choosing sides here. It's not a question of who's right and who's wrong about what ELU is or should be. There have been many proposals for "fixing" ELU -- requiring a test for posters, banning SWRs, instituting tag privileges, and now merging with ELL. These are what I call mechanical fixes, and I think these are doomed without a community consensus on the nature of the site.

  1. Committee for the Preservation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice
  2. Not debatable. What's that other word? Oh, yeah -- risible.
  3. The official version uses enthusiasts instead of experts, but close enough.
  4. I prefer good riddance to, but with works for me.
  5. That's quarks.
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    As a card-carrying member of the CPVPV (dues paid in full), let me add that it is much harder to stifle dissent with the lazy epithet when a querent shows evidence that they tried to answer their own question first, even if they didn't find the answer they were looking for because all the instructions were in English. I mean I'm as unsympathetic as th next jackbooted goon, but explicitly saying where you looked & what you found makes it really difficult to hide my sadistic glee behind a mask of icy intellectual purity. It's a jackboot sans hobs: how are you going to smush a face with that?
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 22:53
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    More seriously: I think you hit the nail on the head here with the idea of trying to reconcile two mutually unintelligible camps under one big tent: something's gotta give, Camp Orange, Camp Blue, or the tent. Which is why we set up a separate, adjoining tent a few years ago. I think it's a matter of directing people to the right tent.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 22:58
  • Some might have said "Let's get rid of basic learners' Qs" and some might have agreed. When an idea or proposal is suggested, it should work. If it doesn't, it is the right procedure to look back and try to find what exactly happened and what went wrong. ELL's creation was supposed to work so that ELU wouldn't be swamped with learners' Qs. But, ELU is still busy getting rid of basic learners' questions. The problem was not fixed. Qs are first asked on ELU. Something is wrong. And we might have to employ another strategy for the next few years. That's for sure. Your answer doesn't address this
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 6:45
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    @Rathony Your answer doesn't address this My answer says that no tactics, like the one suggested in the OP, will work to fix the problem. And that's the only point I wanted to make.
    – deadrat
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 7:25
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    @deadrat Yes, but you never know how it would work unless you try it. We will know a few years later if it happens. But trying something is better than sitting on a file of bad questions and doing nothing about them. The Qs suitable on ELL could be tagged under one English site. Those who don't want to read them can just avoid them. There is no reason to have two sites for one language. It causes more confusion for new users. Why do users have to worry about where to ask when they don't even know what ELU and ELL are. This problem has a solution that can work. CPVPV's role will also decrease
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 7:31
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    @Rathony: Doing a full merge of two graduated sites just because, well, hey, maybe it would work! — that's ridiculously foolhardy. Merging the sites would not be reversible, and would require a great deal of work to adjust the members to each other and work out how to apply policies properly. This amount of work would be better put to simply improving ELU's own moderation. It's not glamorous, but a few months into the merge, the work needed for that wouldn't be glamorous either. Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 20:18
  • @NathanTuggy I think you missed the most important point. The strategy to divide ELL into ELU/ELL failed. There was no ELU in the first place. I think you know better than I do what's going on ELL and your latest Meta post on ELL convinced me ELL should not have been created in the first place. The more time it takes, the more work and energy would be needed. I think you misunderstand one more thing. Moderation on ELU is far better than that of ELL. Actually, ELL is not following SE policy and guidelines. That's for sure. I am very happy that SE staff are reading this and would consider this.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 20:24
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    @Rathony: So ELU is already ELL, its moderation is insufficient to make it ELU, and it's ELL that has lousy moderation that's "not following SE policy" [citation needed]? ELL is not the site with a CV backlog of 1/3 its daily reviews. And in any case, folding in the site culture and users that are apparently already not following SE policy and are asking the sorts of questions ELU has tried so hard to get rid of for so long is a remarkably quixotic way to fix ELU's problems. If ELU wants to be ELL so bad, there's a perfectly good ELL already working. Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 20:32
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    RE: There was no ELU in the first place That's a rather presumptuous thing for a Rathony-come-lately to proclaim, and pretty much dismisses the work of longtime contributors such as Peter Shor, Barrie England, John Lawler, tchrist, Robusto, RegDwight, nohat, medica, kiamlaluno, and Edwin Ashworth, to name but a few. Anyone has the right to weigh in on whether they think the split was a good idea or an ill-advised one, but this claim about ELU never existing is a bit short-sighted and over-the-top.
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 23:18

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