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Thread: DO AMERICANS KNOW HOW TO SPEAK THEIR LANGUAGE?

  1. #1 DO AMERICANS KNOW HOW TO SPEAK THEIR LANGUAGE? 
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    Evidence that Americans don't know how to talk their language is
    provided by the Media Mavens and other TV Talking Heads.--Perhaps
    the most common "mispeak" is "kinds", as in "these kinds of things".
    But "kind" or "type" bundles SIMILAR INSTANCES into one KIND/TYPE.
    But this common mispeak undoes that bundle. Comparable to cutting
    a rubber band around a bundle of toothpicks, scattering them about.
    Implicitly it's an OXYMORON: a CONTRADICTORY EXPRESSION, as in
    "falsely true". For this usage of "kinds" implies "one is many".
    Try to avoid this mispeak!--Perhaps the next most common mispeak
    is "less" as in "less people" instead of "fewer people". The label
    "fewer" applies to countable or discrete or discontinuous referents.
    The label "less" applies to continous referents, as in "less sausage",
    meaning that a piece of a sausage loaf has been sliced off. When I
    hear a mispeak such as "less people", I have the image of a people
    loaf being sliced. This, also, is implicitly an oxymoron, implying
    "discontinuity is continuous". Try also to avoid it.--Another common
    mispeak is "crippled" as applied to a plane or a plan. Physically
    disabled people cringe at this mispeak, when "totally damaged plane"
    or "vitiated plan" takes only a few more syllables to avoid abuse.--
    Many common expressions are pejorative or abusive. Perhaps the most
    common instance is "dumb". Properly, a dumb person is MUTE: unable
    to speak. Many mute people feel that this labels mute people as
    stupid. Do you mean this when you say "dumb". You can avoid being
    abusive by using "foolish" or "asinine".--Another case is "kids"
    for children. Properly, a kid is a young goat. But many people
    kill and eat kids. When I hear this usage of "kids", I have the
    image of little children shish-ke-bob. Is this what you mean?--
    I try to avoid "monster" in speaking or writing because I know
    it derives from an ancient Greek word for "monitor" and implies
    DEFORMED BABIES. It was believed that the gods monitored behavior
    of men. If a man "sinned" or failed to make offerings, the gods
    might send his wife a deformed baby. So the poor woman not only
    had to take of such a child, but also suffer the pejoratives of
    neighbor.--Some mispeaks are ellipical. Perhaps the most common
    case was taught me by my darling late wife, afflicted in infancy
    by polio, leaving a paralyzed left leg and deformed left foot.
    She objected to such usages as "the lame", "the blind", "the
    mute", etc., saying "These are people! Lame people. Blind people.
    Mute people. And so on." Esther cringed at the "crippled" usage
    cited above, and also at "cripple", preferming "physically
    disabled".--I try never to eat chicken because my first animal
    friend was a Plymouth Rock hen. You've heard the expression,
    "She cared for me like a Mother Hen". A sudden shower might
    prevent a hen from getting her chicks into a wooden shelter. So
    she shelters them under her wing and huddles there, pelted by
    the rain. When I hear food ads about chicken. I get the image
    of "Southern Fried Motherhood".--Another misuse-abuse: in at
    least two episodes of the Mary Tyler Moore Show on TV 1970-77
    the term "feeb" is used to describe silly behavior. The term
    derives from "feeble-minded", much used in early 20th centuary
    when many behavior-limited people were rendered sterile.--Do
    Americans realize that "pornography" is snobbish? In ancient
    Greece, there were three classes of prostitutes. The Porne,
    being poorest, were considered the lowest class. To attract
    clients, a Porne woman would hang a giant phallus outside her
    hut, and decorate interior walls with crude erotic drawings:
    graphics of the Porne. But big museums in North America and
    in Europe have private rooms where erotica are displayed for
    wealthy patrons -- works of many famous painters through the
    ages. Rembrandt, for example, often drew ladies on chamber
    pots and lovers entwined in bed. (An extensive collection:
    "The Complete Book of Erotic Art", Volumes 1 and 2[/I] (1987),
    Drs. Phyllis and Eberhard Kronhausen.) If it's for the poor
    or nonwealthy, it's "pornography"; for the rich, it's "erotica".
    What really should be attacked are works of art which show
    cruelty and violence directed against girls and women. Call
    this "misography": "graphics of misogynists (women-haters)".
    --Language is our most important tool -- what makes us human.
    Does any one care?


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  3. #2  
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    And there are homosexual men who take offence at the casual negative use of the word “gay” (e.g. “that’s so gay!”). (I know one such person myself.)

    Language usage changes all the time. There’s nothing any single person can do to stop it or reverse its trend, unfortunately. :?


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    Forum Isotope Bunbury's Avatar
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    Yet another example of stereotyping, this time presented by someone claiming to care about the English or American language, yet apparently ignorant of the benefits of paragraphs.
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  5. #4  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard i_feel_tiredsleepy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bunbury
    Yet another example of stereotyping, this time presented by someone claiming to care about the English or American language, yet apparently ignorant of the benefits of paragraphs.
    I lost interest at "Americans don't know how to talk their language", it should be "Americans don't know how to speak their language".
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  6. #5  
    Forum Professor Pendragon's Avatar
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    Paragraphs are a great invention indeed.. Jon you have failed to write a text that curious, educated people care to read, simply by neglecting punctuation. I think that's a more serious issue of 'language usage' than using neologisms.

    Quote Originally Posted by JaneBennet
    Language usage changes all the time. There’s nothing any single person can do to stop it or reverse its trend, unfortunately. :?
    Why unfortunately? Languages indeed evolve continuously, but it's not necessarily a process of degradation. For example the English language has been enriched with a lot of vocabulary from old French and old Danish, at some point people must've looked down on that as degradation as well. But if you had to do without those 'foreign words' you'd have trouble constructing a normal sentence. "Pure English" vocabulary (if there is such a thing) is very scarce. I've heard that only 1% of a standard English dictionary consists of words directly related to old English (Beowulf style). Words like 'ganja', 'yo', 'hombre' are just the latest additions, in a long tradition of language mixing.

    Even Shakespeare's language usage must've been 'new' and 'strange' for a lot of people, he and his generation invented a lot of new words as well. We're not the first generation which tries to change their languages; instead, we're probably among the first generations which try to prevent language change (with dictionaries, standardized spelling, 'national language institutes' etc).
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    Forum Professor sunshinewarrior's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pendragon
    Paragraphs are a great invention indeed.. Jon you have failed to write a text that curious, educated people care to read, simply by neglecting punctuation. I think that's a more serious issue of 'language usage' than using neologisms.

    Quote Originally Posted by JaneBennet
    Language usage changes all the time. There’s nothing any single person can do to stop it or reverse its trend, unfortunately. :?
    Why unfortunately? Languages indeed evolve continuously, but it's not necessarily a process of degradation. For example the English language has been enriched with a lot of vocabulary from old French and old Danish, at some point people must've looked down on that as degradation as well. But if you had to do without those 'foreign words' you'd have trouble constructing a normal sentence. "Pure English" vocabulary (if there is such a thing) is very scarce. I've heard that only 1% of a standard English dictionary consists of words directly related to old English (Beowulf style). Words like 'ganja', 'yo', 'hombre' are just the latest additions, in a long tradition of language mixing.

    Even Shakespeare's language usage must've been 'new' and 'strange' for a lot of people, he and his generation invented a lot of new words as well. We're not the first generation which tries to change their languages; instead, we're probably among the first generations which try to prevent language change (with dictionaries, standardized spelling, 'national language institutes' etc).
    Pendragon

    The unfortunate aspects of this change are (to me at least) these:

    1. Certain usages to which we are accustomed become ignored, and since language is a social tool, our normative hackles rise when we hear these - no matter whether or not there can be justification for them

    2. Less emotional, in this context, is the fact that this evolution/change, whilst adding wonderfully to our vocabulary and so on, eventually attenuates, and eventually breaks, our links to the great literature of the past. I thoroughly enjoy reading Shakespeare, and, with the assistance of a decent gloss, can have fun reading Chaucer too (though my uni days helped train me for the latter). Already, however, most of my colleagues think of Shakespeare as something you cannot read except in 'modern' English (the way New and Improved Bibles are touted as replacements for the KJV), and Chaucer as being in a different language altogether.

    Now these might be small prices to pay for the various glories of the enrichment of the language but they are, alas, prices we pay...
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  8. #7  
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    Your points make sense Sunshine, that's certainly a price of change.

    I suppose my main argument is that this is not something new, as people sometimes think. Perhaps Shakespeare thought the same way about not being able to comfortably read Beowulf :wink: Change is not degradation by itself, but it can bring a price nevertheless.

    As people grow up they often feel that the culture and environment they were used to has changed. Sometimes it has improved (from slow but elegant steam trains, to diesel and electric trains) but sometimes it's just different, not better or worse. I'm 24 but already I notice that teenagers grow up with things that are meaningless to me, like mobile phone ringtones (what's the fun of those stupid things, why spend money on that..? :? ). Language change is one aspect of this. Just like we can't freeze popular culture or music in time, we can't freeze language change.

    Another point: language belongs to its users, so in a way it's 'democratic'. Only a small percentage of the speakers of any language enjoy reading classical literature, most speakers find it much more important to be able to sound 'cool' and 'relaxed' among their friends. So the language adapts to their needs, not to those of the minority.

    You can compare words and grammatical structures with organisms in a selection environment: those least adapted to the most dominant pressures tend to die out or survive only in a small niche. In the same way some entire languages that are not adapted to their environment can die out altogether. Trying to preserve eloquent old phrases is like trying to safe nearly extinct species: sometimes it's possible, but it's hard work and in a way it's unnatural.
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    Forum Isotope Bunbury's Avatar
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    Fortified by a night’s sleep and some caffeine I have waded into this quagmire and found that, despite the horrible formatting and the title line that is a patently false generalization, I do in fact sympathize with the overall sentiment, as well as with most of the individual complaints cited.

    The post is a good topic spoiled by poor presentation, and demonstrates that good writing is as important as good speech. For many people, however, television might be the main source of learning about language, and the writer’s point that television presenters influence how people speak, and should therefore be careful, is well taken. Unfortunately this may be a self-sustaining feedback loop, in which the youngsters watching and learning to say “less people talk good than they used to” will become tomorrows TV presenters.

    One example that seems to crop up frequently on TV news when the topic is unemployment statistics is “good-paying jobs”. Surely it should be “well-paying jobs” or am I missing some accepted shift in usage here? If we are going to shrug and say “oh well, it’s become the norm” then what’s the point of even trying to teach grammar, spelling and proper usage in schools?
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  10. #9  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    There are two types of language change: those that add to its concision, precision, eloquence, or other qualities; those that detract from these same qualities.

    I share the general distaste for the latter and applaud the former. They are usually quite distinct.

    In judging the writing of others (something regular readers will know I do often) I principally observe the effort that is being made to communicate clearly. I would set far higher expectations for, say, Mitchell McKain ( along standing, native English speaker) than for a new forum member for whom English is clearly a second (or thir, or fourth language). What I find annoying and distracting are those individuals who do not try to improve and seem indifferent to how difficult it is to follow their posts. Whether this is persistent typos, lack of grammar, absence of structure, or just general incohesion, it is the lack of effort I find most disturbing.
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  11. #10  
    Forum Professor Pendragon's Avatar
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    I would like to make a distinction between language mistakes and examples of language change. For example Jon mentions words like 'kids' and 'monster' as examples of incorrect or substandard language usage. I disagree, I think this is 'natural' language evolution and doesn't have to be discouraged.

    For example in medieval English the word 'silly' had a completely different meaning. Take for example the sentence "How silly arth thou mother Mary". The word 'silly' seems like an insult to a modern audience, but it actually meant something like 'innocent' in those days. Should we say "Aha, using 'silly' as an insult is incorrect usage, like kid and monster!"? I don't think that makes sense. Before meaning 'innocent' the word 'silly' probably had different meanings as well, just like so many words in so many languages. How could we identify an 'original', 'correct' meaning, some base level at which everything was still 'pure'? We can't, because such things don't exist.

    I hope this thread can go beyond discussing spelling mistakes and such, so we can delve a bit deeper into the topic of language evolution.
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  12. #11  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard icewendigo's Avatar
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    Evidence that Americans don't know how to talk their language
    as was mentioned before, fighting change is an uphill battle :wink: and adding new words and ideas from other cultures is sometimes quite positive...

    ...when one tongue meets another they mix, and people love the exchange which adds to their oral repertoire (my English is not so good, but I French very well)
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    Forum Professor sunshinewarrior's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pendragon
    Trying to preserve eloquent old phrases is like trying to safe nearly extinct species: sometimes it's possible, but it's hard work and in a way it's unnatural.
    Perhaps, but for a literature student (though it's been more years than I care to count since I could formally claim that label) I view it more along the lines of preserving works of art - the destruction of any of which is cause for mourning.

    Perhaps not everybody appreciates Hockney's A Bigger Splash, say, but that is hardly reason to recycle it for the canvas or whatever? Or is it?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bunbury
    One example that seems to crop up frequently on TV news when the topic is unemployment statistics is “good-paying jobs”. Surely it should be “well-paying jobs” or am I missing some accepted shift in usage here? If we are going to shrug and say “oh well, it’s become the norm” then what’s the point of even trying to teach grammar, spelling and proper usage in schools?
    Perhaps merely to point up the utility of such? That is, perhaps we are best of teaching these norms in context: if you want to impress potential employers in x,y and z business sectors, you will do better if you follow these norms.

    Anything else, alas, much though I favour prescriptiveness, would seem to be the following of arbitrary norms...
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  14. #13  
    Forum Masters Degree organic god's Avatar
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    it doesn't matter about using the exact word or if you have the correct definition. if people understand what you mean then its cool.

    word's should just be a tool so people can follow something important like a calculation.
    everything is mathematical.
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  15. #14  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pendragon
    For example in medieval English the word 'silly' had a completely different meaning. Take for example the sentence "How silly arth thou mother Mary". The word 'silly' seems like an insult to a modern audience, but it actually meant something like 'innocent' in those days. Should we say "Aha, using 'silly' as an insult is incorrect usage, like kid and monster!"? I don't think that makes sense. Before meaning 'innocent' the word 'silly' probably had different meanings as well, just like so many words in so many languages.
    There is another modern meaning to the word “silly”: it refers to one of the fielding positions in the game of cricket in which the fielder stands as close as he can to the batsman without the danger of being hit by his bat. I don’t know why such a position is called “silly” – probably because there is a very high risk of being hit by the ball in that position and so it’s kind of silly to be standing there.

    Sorry if I’ve got the etymology wrong – but I can’t help making that silly point.
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  16. #15  
    Forum Professor sunshinewarrior's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JaneBennet
    Quote Originally Posted by Pendragon
    For example in medieval English the word 'silly' had a completely different meaning. Take for example the sentence "How silly arth thou mother Mary". The word 'silly' seems like an insult to a modern audience, but it actually meant something like 'innocent' in those days. Should we say "Aha, using 'silly' as an insult is incorrect usage, like kid and monster!"? I don't think that makes sense. Before meaning 'innocent' the word 'silly' probably had different meanings as well, just like so many words in so many languages.
    There is another modern meaning to the word “silly”: it refers to one of the fielding positions in the game of cricket in which the fielder stands as close as he can to the batsman without the danger of being hit by his bat. I don’t know why such a position is called “silly” – probably because there is a very high risk of being hit by the ball in that position and so it’s kind of silly to be standing there.

    Sorry if I’ve got the etymology wrong – but I can’t help making that silly point.
    It's the only etymology I've heard of that explains it.

    And speaking of which (off-topic but hey) we've currently got the Kiwis rattled at 43/3 at Lords - Anderson x 2 and Broad x 1! Huzzah! Bloomin' rain boo!
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    Oh well, I thought there was a much better explanation for the origin of the cricket term “silly”. Maybe something to do with “sill” (as in a window sill)?

    By the way [off-topic] in case people missed the pun I made earlier, “point” refers to another cricket fielding position. A fielder at “silly point” would be standing as close as possible to the batsman square on the off side*. 8) (And at Lord’s the Kiwis have recovered to 208 for 6.)

    *square = at right angles to the length of the pitch; off side = the side towards which the batman’s bat is pointing
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  18. #17  
    Forum Professor sunshinewarrior's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JaneBennet
    Oh well, I thought there was a much better explanation for the origin of the cricket term “silly”. Maybe something to do with “sill” (as in a window sill)?

    By the way [off-topic] in case people missed the pun I made earlier, “point” refers to another cricket fielding position. A fielder at “silly point” would be standing as close as possible to the batsman square on the off side*. 8) (And at Lord’s the Kiwis have recovered to 208 for 6.)

    *square = at right angles to the length of the pitch; off side = the side towards which the batman’s bat is pointing
    At best, I think it's 'silly' as in silly of the captain to station someone there - but that's only a subtle difference...

    And for gawd's sake please do not invite the people to have a festival of pun here on dire things like long legs and so on... :P
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    Forum Isotope Bunbury's Avatar
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    but that's only a subtle difference...
    A nice difference you could say, since the topic is changing meanings.
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  20. #19  
    Forum Professor sunshinewarrior's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bunbury
    but that's only a subtle difference...
    A nice difference you could say, since the topic is changing meanings.
    You are too 'cute for me! :P
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  21. #20  
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    Quote Originally Posted by sunshinewarrior
    And for gawd's sake please do not invite the people to have a festival of pun here on dire things like long legs and so on... :P
    Okay. In any case, I don’t like long legs – I prefer to see a captain bring his fine leg up. (Ooh, I did it again – sorry. )
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  22. #21  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    I think you are all batting on a sticky wicket and liable to exceed the boundary of good taste.
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