Thursday, November 17, 2005

language, usage & grammar

"Language, Usage & Grammar" was the name of an elective English class I took in high school. It was basically a survey of Pre-Chomskian Linguistics, taught by an olive-shaped lady named Mrs. Travis. (She was rather ageless, but I think it's safe to guess that she learned about linguistics around the time Chomsky was speaking his first words...) That class taught prescriptivist grammar ("thou shalt not end a sentence with a preposition!"), which has ruined me to this day. I often embarass myself by using "who" and "whom" correctly, in informal speech! "Yo, with whom are youse guys goin' to the rave?"

In college, then, I took a lot of Linguistics classes, where I was then brainwashed into descriptivist linguistics. ("Ah, I see that African-Americans use aspectual be, unlike all other speakers of English! That's great! I can write a paper on that!")

Apparently, descriptivist linguistics didn't stick very well, 'cause I'm amused by usage errors. Or maybe it did, since I'm only amused, and not offended. In any case, I was amused this morning by an AP story about a dinosaur discovered in Dallas (Dallasaurus). It's title was: "Prehistoric Lizard Called Historic Link". Which is kindof a contradiction in terms, no? "Prehistoric" meaning, technically, "stuff that happened before the advent of writing", while "historic" means "stuff that happened and then was written down." Of course, "historic" is used here metaphorically, but it's amusingly distracting from what the headline-writer was trying to say!

Also on language, I just got myself a cool language t-shirt, and am now reading an interesting (non-technical) linguistics blog, Language Log, which deserves a plug.


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