Under an answer to the following question What is a good alternative for the reverse of a boycott? a user has posted a couple of comments that I find discriminatory, to say the least.

@JOSH On what basis do you say "be easily and intuitively understood as the antonym of boycott" given that you are not a native speaker of English? –

@grimely JOSH is not a native speaker, so I wouldn't know on what basis he can judge whether neologisms would be "be easily and intuitively understood" in context –

The users seems to suggest that I, as any other non native speaker, am not entitled to express my view on the usage of a term because I lack the quality of "nativeness" that is , according to his comments, an indispenseble prerequisite to make a credible comment.

I've seen poor quality posts both by natives and non natives but if discrimination is going to be a theme on ELU, what about the level of schooling one has received? the place one was born and the language their parents speak? would a first generation immigrant be less welcome than a second generation one?

I am really and sadly surprised by the acrimony that this issue still generates in some users on a site like ELU which, by tradition and vocation, is supposed to be a truly international one.

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    I remember the commenter in the question claimed in a comment to one of your answers "you committed plagiarism and it is a criminal offense". I was shocked... and I wonder how ELU users would react to the comment if you include it in the question. – user140086 Dec 14 '16 at 10:18
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    Did you flag the comments? Did you visit chat and talk to any of the mods? If yes, please include that info in your question. If you did neither of these things, please explain why. P.S. I didn't upvote. PPS I am not defending the deplorable comments. They are pathetic and personal attacks. – Mari-Lou A Dec 14 '16 at 10:45
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    @Mari-LouA - I flagged the comments. I don't use chat. I think the comments are more than pathetic and more than a personal attack, that's why I decided to raise the issue here. – user66974 Dec 14 '16 at 10:53
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    @AlanCarmack I know pretty well how you behaved on ELL and what really worries me is this is not the first time that I saw you leave a comment implying "I am right because I am a native English speaker and you are wrong because you are not." Listen very carefully. Advising or warning the OP about potential plagiarism is one thing and could be helpful for the OP and ELU, but saying It is a criminal offense is another. You should stop targeting certain users and harass them. – user140086 Dec 14 '16 at 17:00
  • This post is highly and incredibly hypocritical. The OP himself posted a comment that was actually discriminatory in that it asked a newbie to the site why he felt the need to comment on something said by the OP. I flagged that comment as being not nice and the comment was deleted. – Alan Carmack Dec 14 '16 at 17:02
  • @AlanCarmack - I asked about a comment directed to me, not to you! The user had never posted anything before on ELU, no question, no answer, no previous comments so it struck me as queer that he had been attracted just by my comment, that's why I asked. Do you know him, by any chance? – user66974 Dec 14 '16 at 17:44
  • I have just read this post and cannot find the offensive remarks. Perhaps someone might consider pointing me in the right direction? Thank you. (I did click on the link and read through [and searched] the ensuing comments. – Lambie Dec 16 '16 at 14:59
  • @Lambie - please refer to A. Leach's answer below. – user66974 Dec 16 '16 at 15:01
  • @JOSH Sorry, that does not clarify this for me. I think personal remarks should be avoided. One can talk about being a native speaker, without making a personal remark such as: you are + [predicate]. – Lambie Dec 16 '16 at 18:54
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    @Lambie - Take another look at Andrew's post. Andrew wrote that both comments have been deleted. – aparente001 Dec 16 '16 at 19:14
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    @aparente001 It's difficult to discuss what can't be read but at least I now see what this is about. – Lambie Dec 16 '16 at 19:39

No, such comments are not helpful. They contain ad hominem attacks, basing an opinion on a characteristic of the person rather than his argument. This violates the Be nice policy. It's not acceptable to make comments about someone based on a person's perceived status or some other property.

The second is eminently deletable on that basis, either by sufficient user flags or moderator agreement. It's entirely unsalvageable.

I considered editing the first one to read @JOSH On what basis do you say "[procott would not be] easily and intuitively understood as the antonym of boycott"? but that would be to initiate a conversation in comments.

Both have been deleted.

Comments such as these are alluded to in the FAQ on flagging:

Offensive language in comments and posts

What’s offensive is threatening behaviour, ad-hominem attacks, and using curses and swearing to intimidate.

I think everyone who likes the colour blue should be shot.
You are a typical bluey, and I wouldn’t even be surprised if you had blue blood.
Just the thing a fucking blue-baby would write.

Comments which are otherwise inappropriate

What’s not constructive is suggesting that someone’s question or answer is good or bad based on some feature that is not relevant.

Well, of course all blue-lovers think like this.

The line between what’s “not constructive” and “rude or offensive” can be a fine distinction to make. Looked at objectively, this comment is a general comment about a group of people. It’s disparaging, but it’s not violent or hateful, a direct ad-hominem attack or swearing.

Whether one treats the quoted comments as offensive or not constructive doesn't make a great deal of difference here. They fall foul of one class or the other. As they are directed at an individual, I consider them to be ad hominem.

  • Oh this is political correctness gone wrong. Any linguistics 101 class teaches that native speakers (only) possess an innate sense of what is grammatical. I was truly interested in how this NNS could tell if something would be "be easily and intuitively understood." This is neither discriminatory or an "attack." Three are native speakers and nonnative speakers, and nothing, even a misguided policy can change that. – Alan Carmack Dec 14 '16 at 16:39
  • Meanwhile, I flagged a comment by a certain person as harassment but it was deemed not helpful. Yes, the content of the comment was "fine" but the procedure to direct the comment toward me made me feel like I am being harassed and bullied by this person. What should I do about that? What is the site's policy on harassment and bullying? Just ignore it? – Alan Carmack Dec 14 '16 at 16:45
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    @AlanCarmack (a) I think I would advise to stop digging the hole. (b) Every flag is dealt with individually, and moderators try to apply a consistent stance for each one they encounter. Harrassment and bullying is not on, as I hope this answer demonstrates. We have suspended users for that in the past, and I'm sure we shall again. – Andrew Leach Mod Dec 14 '16 at 17:18
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    @AlanCarmack I've heard and read many native speakers commit grammatical errors, the presumption that whatever a native speaker says must be correct because they speak a language from birth is not an absolute given. Uneducated, and semi-literate native speakers abound on the net. What might be idiomatic (i.e. grammatical) for an Australian, will not be for an Irishman, but both speak the English language. And of course, advanced Italian learners, I cannot talk of other nationalities, can detect when a line or expression doesn't sound right to them. It comes with great practice and study. – Mari-Lou A Dec 15 '16 at 9:12
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    It's funny but as a linguist reading these posts I find there is confusion about idiomaticity and grammaticality and spoken versus written English. There are certain patterns that no native speaker (even an uneducated one) would use in their own language. The example that springs to mind (and this is not a judgment) for English is: Spanish speakers saying in English "Thanks God" and French speakers confusing /let/ and /leave/ for the French term laisser. – Lambie Dec 16 '16 at 15:43
  • @Lambie - Yeah, I've heard the let/leave confusion from plenty of nationalities, but you've left me behind on "Thanks God." I can't imagine trying to get a Spanish-speaking tongue around those four consonants together (nksg). Is it more of a written mistake than something you hear spoken? – aparente001 Dec 16 '16 at 19:10
  • Ahem. Comments are not for discussion on unrelated topics. The question (and answer here) are about pre-conceived notions of suitability and how not to express them. – Andrew Leach Mod Dec 16 '16 at 19:15
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    @Andrew Leach I don't see how one can discuss anything in your post since the comments have been deleted. That said, my remark about what I assume this was about (but I can't of course prove that) was being a native speaker. There is nothing intrinsically insulting about that per se. It is "a thing" (i.e. a category) in the academy, translation, linguistics, language-learning etc. That said, it should not be weaponized (used to make personal remarks which you call ad hominen attacks). – Lambie Dec 16 '16 at 19:46
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    @Lambie The comments are in the question. – Andrew Leach Mod Dec 16 '16 at 21:47
  • @aparente001 As a native speaker, I'd pronounce that more like nks'g, "ending" the s sound before starting the g, instead of trying to pronounce the sg sound. A bit like there's a really tiny comma in between the two words. – wizzwizz4 Dec 18 '16 at 11:52
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    @wizzwizz4 - Please don't bend over backwards to rationalize an unconfirmed habit described by one person. (And which was hopelessly tangential here to begin with.) – aparente001 Dec 18 '16 at 18:12
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    This is off-topic, sort of. I was giving /Thanks God/, as an example of a common literal translation heard in English from Spanish of /gracias a Dios/ and Portuguese, /graças a Deus/. Both take an s. It is not an unconfirmed habit. It is a fact. I hear it all the time and I happen to speak both those languages fluently, and am an interpreter with a long history of teaching English and translation. – Lambie Dec 18 '16 at 23:43
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    @Lambie - It's unconfirmed for the time being -- because we only have your word for it. That's not to say it's not true! (I do have a hard time imagining a Spanish speaker getting their tongue around so many consonants smushed together....) – aparente001 Dec 19 '16 at 6:28
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    @aparente001 -nks may be three consonants, but can essentially be (mis)pronounced as a single x. That is not hard for a Spanish speaker to say and, in fact, is a sound that already exists in Spanish. Here are some examples of Spanish speakers using it or wondering about it, at least in written English: 1, 2, 3. – terdon Dec 19 '16 at 9:57
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    @Andrew Leach I will just repeat this, my original post:It's funny but as a linguist reading these posts I find there is confusion about idiomaticity and grammaticality and spoken versus written English. There are certain patterns that no native speaker (even an uneducated one) would use in their own language. – Lambie Dec 19 '16 at 12:35

Let me offer my opinion (as you appear to be offering yours).

The comments quoted are hostile. However, the point they so clumsily make can be made, I think, generally and perhaps more acceptably: that answers (and comments) ought to provide as much relevant information as reasonably possible.

A reference to "intuition" when discussing language may easily give impulse to a mental leap on the part of OP and others, that the person making the reference is in fact a native speaker. Even if it is irrelevant to the subject matter whether or not the user making the reference is a native speaker or not, the unspoken assumption of nativeness may easily be established by such a reference.

If I understand correctly, if the assumption were made, it would be false in this particular case. If relevant to the OP at all, the OP would be misguided. I've seen many posts on this site that explicitly seek to consult native speakers. This is apparently not the case, and the only incentive for the putative inclusion of the information about the "nativeness" status is the reference to intuition.

Not being a native speaker, I know only too well that some of my "intuitions" about English may have been implanted long time ago by a teacher (or textbook), a favourite author, a catchphrase, etc. and cemented by relative lack of exposure to the live language. I might still refer to my intuition, but then I might, in turn, take rebukes about my intuition seriously (especially if politely made).

If I asked about Eskimo words for snow, for example, then I would perhaps anytime prefer the intuitions of a native speaker with exposure to the phenomenon to any amount of education or research of non-natives. (Whereas if I wanted to dicsuss comparative phonology of Eskimo languages, native-ness would be irrelevant.)

I can understand you were hurt by those comments. As you point out, background of users who provide opinions here matters; native-ness (even if vaguely understood) is just one important part of one's background. Although, of course, I am not trying to argue that the intuition of any native speaker trumps everything a non-native speaker may contribute here.

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    I'm a native speaker of English, and yet I make plenty of mistakes based on my intuition. There are so many varieties of English, even within my own country, my own state, my own town. Anyone born and raised in an English-speaking country can try to set himself up as an authoritative expert on intuition about English, but is any of us really completely authoritative about what "sounds right"? – aparente001 Dec 16 '16 at 19:21
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    @aparente001 The fact that there are many varieties of English hardly makes the fact that there are native and non-native speakers (of those varieties) irrelevant. I'd be greatly alarmed if some native speakers of English tried to sort of make up for some snide comments of other users by making self-effacing comments here about their poor intuitions and language competencies. I'm sure that's not what JOSH wanted to achieve. – anemone Dec 17 '16 at 15:02
  • And, of course, I cannot be the judge for English (even though I can spot roaring blasphemies even there) but I must admit that, perhaps immodestly, I set a lot of store by my intuitions and competencies in my own native language (Czech). I have yet to meet a non-native speaker of Czech (and yes, there are some amazing people who've gone the trouble of learning it and sound almost native - almost) who would be a match for a majority of natives in usage of the language (though not necessarily in knowledge about it). – anemone Dec 17 '16 at 15:10
  • Let me check if I'm understanding right. Are you saying I'm trying to sort of make up for some snide comments of other users by making self-effacing comments? Let me try to clarify. I took myself as a sample native English speaker and confessed that my intuition is not infallible. I thought I was supporting non-native English speakers' full participation on ELU. // I don't know about other English speaking countries, but to me at least, the U.S. is very different from your description of (I hope I get this right) the Czech Republic. Here, we have such a massive, continuous influx... – aparente001 Dec 17 '16 at 18:56
  • ...of immigrants and visitors that there is not such a clear dividing line between native speakers and non-native speakers. A very substantial proportion of us, or our partners, or one or both of our parents, are originally from some other place. In my case, my partner and my mother were both born and raised elsewhere. That contaminates my English. I lived in other countries for many years, and that contaminates my English too. But we all muddle along. – aparente001 Dec 17 '16 at 19:01
  • @aparente001 I support non-native speakers' full participation too, and I thank you for this stance. It's just that I think you are suporting it using wrong arguments. You appear to be effectively undermining the concept of a native speaker of a language, by pointing out dialects, borderline cases, and multilingual societies. But none of these things are incompatible with the notion of native speaker. I wasn't arguing a clear division line; by mentioning my experience (limited, of course), I'm contributing to the statistical fact of a lingistic competence in their native language that comes – anemone Dec 17 '16 at 22:28
  • --- naturally to native speakers that non-natives simply do not have. I am not denying borderline cases (although I have not met any), and I am certainly not talking about contamination. If I misrepresented Czech Republic, let me make up for it now: we have immigrants and dialects too. I was only bringing it in to explain my experience with native-ness, which is so different from yours. – anemone Dec 17 '16 at 22:33
  • Yeah, I might have had a bit of a hypersensitive reaction to your answer. I see your point that a non-native speaker has more of a challenge to calibrate his ear. – aparente001 Dec 18 '16 at 7:14

English was originally a mishmash language. Now, it has become the international language of science, which gives it more rich opportunities for bringing in influences from other languages. Many of the countries where it is spoken as a native language, including but not limited to the United States, have substantial populations of people who were born elsewhere. This rich exchange with other languages is a strength of English, and we can celebrate that here at ELU.

I became bilingual as a young adult, having been hired right after my Bachelor's degree in a provincial town in Mexico. Interestingly, learning another language thoroughly deepened my understanding and appreciation for my first language (English). I have seen that non-native speakers of English who participate on ELU have plenty to contribute, that a native speaker might not think of.

So, hurray for our own particular type of diversity here. What a boring place ELU would be without it.

Let's make sure all enthusiasts of the English language feel comfortable participating here.

  • I suspect all languages were originally a mishmash. Think of the early Romance languages coming out of Latin. Spoken languages (as opposed to dead ones like Latin) are constantly evolving. But they can still be characterized and described. – Lambie Dec 16 '16 at 15:38
  • @Lambie - But English is such an obvious hybrid of words that make me think of German, and words that make me think of French. Whereas a person could sit down and write down a handful of common words in Spanish that come from Greek, end in a, but are masculine. (As an example.) But this is tangential. It's an interesting tangent, though. Would you like to pose a question about this? – aparente001 Dec 16 '16 at 19:05
  • It may seem that way to you. No, I most definitely do not want to pose a question about English being a mishmash. No language is a hybrid of words. A language is not about words, funnily enough. It's about utterances. And utterances are not "dictionarizable" as they say in Portuguese. – Lambie Dec 16 '16 at 22:36
  • @Lambie Let me be more precise. I'm sorry that comment was a bit sloppy. I should have said: But English is such an obvious mélange. I hear words that make me think of German, and words that make me think of French. I read on wikipedia, "English is a Germanic language, having a grammar and core vocabulary inherited from Proto-Germanic. However, a significant portion of the English vocabulary comes from Romance and Latinate sources." – aparente001 Dec 17 '16 at 19:15
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    My objection to your idea is about your thinking that language is words. English has input etymologically from tons of language, but it is not a mismash. You seem to be talking about dictionary entries or single words, that is not what characterizes a language. – Lambie Dec 17 '16 at 19:47
  • @Lambie - What does mishmash mean to you? // I am sure that I don't have as precise and correct a mental model for what is a language as you do; however, I am happy to reassure you that as imperfect as my understanding of language is, I don't see it as just a collection of words. – aparente001 Dec 17 '16 at 19:55
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    A mishmash is precisely that. Just a collection of some things. I am trying to say that a language is not a collection of words. It's about structure. And you are reducing it in a sense to individual or single words. That is what I find objectionable. You even say: English was originally a mishmash language. English has historical logic. – Lambie Dec 18 '16 at 15:11
  • @Lambie Well, either you and I just plain love to argue about anything and everything (which might be true, who knows), or this whole back-and-forth arose because I used, or perhaps misused the word mishmash. I just looked it up. Please rest assured, I did not mean to say that English arose as a jumbled mix, a what's-in-the-fridge soup. I am very sorry if that's how it sounded. // By the way, when I was looking up mishmash, I came across a Linguistics SE thread you'll be interested in: linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/281/… – aparente001 Dec 18 '16 at 18:22
  1. Let's be guided by the fact that the stakes here almost nonexistent. So much so that, continuing the tradition of a previous post of mine, I will be prefixing pejoratives in this discussoin with the double-dagger to indicate that in theory a negative connotation would apply, but not, in practice, in this forum. Are the comments in question ‡deplorable? In theory, but what's really deplorable is the treatment of Syrian refugees. Comments in ELU, not so much.
  2. As an immediate consequence of 1 (q.v.), let's all drag our fainting couches to the street for removal by the refuse haulers. I'm talking to you @JOSH (more than ‡pathetic), @MaryLouA (‡deplorable, personal ‡attacks), and @AlanCarmack (incredibly ‡hypocritical)
  3. Stop the word games, @JOSH. You're building on the meaning of ‡discriminatory as merely differentiating, to bring a case that you have been deprived of an opportunity or benefit based on that differentiation. No one claims that you are "not entitled to express" your views on usage; no one claims that status as a native-speaker is an "indispensable prerequisite to make a credible comment." How could such claims, were they to be made, be enforced?
  4. And while we're on the topic of enforceability, how about losing the slippery slope to drama? Are you really concerned that ELU will demand birth certificates of its participants or enquire of the languages spoken by participants' parents?
  5. While we're at it, can we at least get the term ad hominem correct? (This is for you @AndrewLeach.) An ad hominem counter-argument is a rebuttal that cites opponents' identities or opponents' characteristics that are not relevant to the opponents' arguments. Impeachment may be a weak counter, but it is not necessarily an ad hominem. We may dismiss those who claim that moonlight is a physically cooling light by noting that they belong to the fraternity of people who have never studied physics. We also wouldn't have to take @JOSH's mother's word for her son's intuitive grasp of language.
  6. Stop stirring the pot. (I'm talking to you @Rathony.) Even if you found a charge of "criminal" plagiarism ‡shocking, this topic doesn't belong in this discussion. But while we're on the topic, @AlanCarmack, plagiarism is not a criminal matter, at least in the US. The only way it would be involved is in false licensure or fraud, the latter requiring illegal financial gain.
  7. (This is an aside, @AlanCarmack, but it amuses me so much, I just have to mention it. In the US, defamation is the (legally-defined) publishing of damaging and (legally-defined) falsity. There are several ways in which nominally-damaging statements might fail to be actually damaging. (See 1, for instance.) But a false accusation of criminality is presumed to be damaging. It's called libel per se. Nice going.)
  8. The real problem is the weakness of the arguments. On the one hand, easy and intuitive understanding is difficult to quantify. On the other, whatever truth there is to native speakers having an easier and more intuitive understanding, it is statistical truth; it doesn't help on a sample of one. @JOSH can always point to Józef Teodor Korzeniowski*, who didn't speak fluent English until his third decade of life and still managed to become one of the foremost masters of the English novel.
  9. Finally, let's stop pretending that disparaging non-native speakers is foreign to ELU or surpising to find here. It's how we roll.

* Better known as Joseph Conrad.

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    Accusing another user of committing a criminal offense just because some words read exactly same as one definition in the free dictionary does belong in this discussion. I believe you would have reacted in the same way as I did. I made a comment to that comment "Plagiarism is never a criminal offense. Don't leave such a comment If you don't know what you are talking about." (Not exact words as I don't remember everything). You and I seem to share the same opinion that plagiarism is not a criminal offense. Imagine how you would have reacted if I had posted the comment accusing you of it. – user140086 Dec 15 '16 at 8:16
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    +1 but you're missing a little background history, the feud between Carmack and Josh has its origin on ELL in late October or November. This is not the first time Josh's credentials have been questioned by Carmack, this is not the first time his thinly disguised disparaging comments on Josh (and myself) have been deleted by the mods on ELL. In light of this, it is not surprising that a user says "enough is enough". – Mari-Lou A Dec 15 '16 at 8:16
  • And also note that Josh never once mentioned Carmack in his question, it was he who commented under the OP, wanting to defend his comments (today and in the past) and hoping, no doubt, to earn some (moral) support. The user has a certain negative record of being litigious with a select number of users. – Mari-Lou A Dec 15 '16 at 8:22
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    Note too, that when Andrew Leach deleted the aforementioned comments, and posted his answer, Carmack's name never emerged, so any user who visited the page would not have known who the "offender" was. It was all relatively anonymous. The drama, the real pot stirrer is Mr Carmack himself. And followed by your kind self :) You never resist a good opportunity to point out mods and users' (human) flaws from the height of your tower. What's the view like from up there? – Mari-Lou A Dec 15 '16 at 8:29
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    @Rathony JOSH's complaint is about discrimination against him. If he wished to discuss the charge of plagiarism, he would have done so. He didn't, so this is the wrong place to bring it up, and you're the wrong person to do so. I think you and I are in violent agreement on plagiarism, and if you had accused me of the offense, we would have had one of our spirited exchanges. I certainly wouldn't have been here on meta complaining about the ‡injustice of it all. – deadrat Dec 15 '16 at 18:23
  • @Rathony (1) So what? (2) Good thing (3) If you think the OP is a principled stand against ‡injustice, then I'm not the naive one. – deadrat Dec 15 '16 at 18:38
  • @Mari-LouA It's not so much I miss the background history so much as I'm just unaware of it. @-JOSH has several deft counters to what he sees as provocation. There's no need to go to Defcon-1. And I don't see how I'm responsible for the fluid dynamics in the pot. If people listened to me, they'd delete their comments and @-JOSH would delete is question. – deadrat Dec 15 '16 at 22:26
  • @Mari-LouA I never resist any opportunity to point out others' flaws, especially mods'. It's one of my most endearing qualities. No, not endearing. What's that other word? The one that means really annoying. If I can't think of it, perhaps I'll issue an SWR. You seem to think I hold myself in lofty virtue. I don't. I'm self-aware enough to know that I'm serially judgmental, repetitive, and often turn into that internet guy who has to have the last word on everything. But I've got the right perspective on this site in general and its moderation in particular. – deadrat Dec 15 '16 at 22:38
  • I haven't read the whole post yet. I've gotten as far as the first dagger (deplorable). But I like you, so I want to tell you that the Syrian refugee crisis, or the Holocaust, or any objectively, massively, horrible thing, can in itself make one more sensitive to any slight or injustice. And vice versa. We are human. We feel. People's judgmental reactions to our expressions of our feelings do not make the feelings any less strong -- and in fact, often tend to have the opposite effect. If one's feelings are a fire in the corner of the room, a dismissal of the fire's existence just... – aparente001 Dec 16 '16 at 19:28
  • feeds it and makes it grow. Paradoxically, maybe, but that's human nature for you. – aparente001 Dec 16 '16 at 19:29
  • @deadrat - I'm not judging the whole egg yet. // How can one rationalize one's likes and dislikes? Your sense of humor has come through over the ethernet and I feel more comfortable letting you know when something bothers me than I might with the average ELU participant. // It's not my place to tell you what to inure yourself. My point is that we generally gain nothing by telling someone he shouldn't be upset about something. When I see someone who appears, objectively, to be overreacting, what do I gain by pointing it out? It's just plain counter-productive. – aparente001 Dec 17 '16 at 19:06
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    As ever, a forensic dissection of the issues! Which mostly amount to mud-slinging from all sides (it's all downhill right from the get-go, starting with a somewhat rabble-rousing rhetorical question). I don't particularly like any of this "discussion", and you're obviously able and willing to mix it with the best of them, but in the interests of clear-sightedness (as opposed to showing solidarity with "right-thinking folk"), I have to give you my upvote. – FumbleFingers Dec 20 '16 at 16:40

Does ELU allow “discriminatory” comments?

Nope, never allowed it, won't ever allow it. Been on ELU for three years, and I'm no native speaker either. I never came across any discriminatory post that was aimed at me. Or at anyone, for that matter. So I don't see it becoming a theme or a pattern.

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