Friday, April 22, 2011
Language is Dynamic
One of the things we learn in anthropology is that culture is dynamic. In other words, it changes, it evolves, and stopping this process actually stifles a culture and can cause it to die. Linguistic anthropology teaches us that language, like culture, is also dynamic and that language and culture are not mutually exclusive from each other. Sometimes I do struggle with this, disliking the way that English is changing, being frustrating with particular grammatical phenomena becoming acceptable when they were not so during my childhood. At the same time, when I remember how so much of our rules were chosen for arbitrary or political reasons, I can't really get too upset because that process continues to happen. A friend sent me a great read on the topic. It's a long article, but well worth reading. When I look back at my first posts, I realise I never stated at any time that my personal style of judging grammar is much like that of the author in this article: I believe there are certain rules that should be followed when using Standard English, which is generally used for formal occasions like report writing, official documentation, and so forth, but that daily speech is governed by local sociocultural norms. People have often told me they're afraid to write to me because they feel like I'll judge their grammar. The truth is that I do notice typos and grammatical errors because I can't turn off my ability to do so, but I don't make any judgments about the people committing these errors. Considering I've worked with and for PhD holders who have fairly atrocious writing skills yet are competent, intelligent people--with doctorates, no less!--it wouldn't really be fair to judge people on their knowledge of Standard English. Furthermore, instances where friends and family are writing to me are informal anyway, so why should there be the same rules? So although you might classify me as a snoot (as described in the article), my snootiness is limited only to instances where Standard English would be expected or required. For the rest of you, don't worry!