Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby Eugo » Tue Jan 31, 2012 4:48 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:If it was actually megabytes of digital text, actually it is possible to prove or disprove its presence therein.

Maybe, if I remembered which megabytes these were.
It is common enough, though, that I'm pretty certain it was there. But even if it wasn't, that just means you read a fairly limited range of material, because the fact remains that it has been in continuous use since English was recognizable as English.

See the distinction between two usages in my previous message. The documented usage I have no problem with, it is the "Officer left their car" that I have.
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jan 31, 2012 4:53 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:See the distinction between two usages in my previous message. The documented usage I have no problem with, it is the "Officer left their car" that I have.
Ah, then I misunderstood. It is indeed the "singular pronoun for an indefinite or unknown person" usage that has existed for centuries, and the evidence is scantier that "singular pronoun for a definite person of indefinite or unknown gender" has been used as long. That one probably is more recent, or at least more recently popular.

However, I strongly suspect that any reduction in clarity for the broader usage will fade over time if it becomes more widely used.
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby Eugo » Tue Jan 31, 2012 9:45 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Eugo wrote:See the distinction between two usages in my previous message. The documented usage I have no problem with, it is the "Officer left their car" that I have.
Ah, then I misunderstood. It is indeed the "singular pronoun for an indefinite or unknown person" usage that has existed for centuries, and the evidence is scantier that "singular pronoun for a definite person of indefinite or unknown gender" has been used as long. That one probably is more recent, or at least more recently popular.

I misunderstood as well - while everybody else was discussing the historical usage, I had this recent one in mind.
However, I strongly suspect that any reduction in clarity for the broader usage will fade over time if it becomes more widely used.

Happens with tight shoes as well. They get broken in, with some trouble.
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jan 31, 2012 9:55 pm UTC

And if tighter shoes somehow combated sexism, I'd recommend them despite the initial discomfort.
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Feb 01, 2012 7:26 pm UTC

goofy wrote:
On the subject of etymology and its relevance in determining meaning, I'm curious what you all think of the causal theory of reference and its relevance here. And more generally, of the importance of determining the "true" referents of things to logical argument. E.g. the Problem of Evil purports to disprove God's existence by showing a logical contradiction in the attributes God is defined to have; but what if someone replies "that definition is incorrect"? Is there a way to respond to that? Is there such a thing as a correct definition?

I'm not sure what this has to do with linguistics.

With the contemporary academic field of linguistics, the task of which is merely documenting usage, maybe not much. But its relevance to discussion of language more generally should be pretty obvious -- it's about how words acquire their referents, and how words might "fail" to "properly" refer to what someone in fact meant to refer to by them, and how the referents of words might or might not be able to change over time -- and this forum is about "Language/Linguistics", not just linguistics.

The Problem of Evil example was just an example of where that might become relevant: one person says "God by definition is x and y, therefore God is z", and someone else replies "The name 'God' doesn't really mean what you're talking about". For a non-religious example, how many times have you heard an argument over what political labels like "liberal" and "conservative" "really" mean and whether someone's beliefs fit that definition and thus whether someone is "really" a liberal or conservative? It's easy to spot a "no true Scotsman" fallacy when you're talking about literal Scotsmen, and you can just ask whether they're from Scotland or not to settle it; but if someone claims, say, that Obama is not really a liberal, he's a conservative, because liberal means this and conservative means that and so despite what he may get called, Obama is not really a liberal -- how do you address that? How does a descriptivist account for that "(doesn't) really mean" construction? Is it meaningless? Or is it possible for a word to have a "real" meaning, and if so, how do we determine what it is, and what it is not? Can it change, and if so, how?
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Feb 01, 2012 10:20 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:How does a descriptivist account for that "(doesn't) really mean" construction? Is it meaningless? Or is it possible for a word to have a "real" meaning, and if so, how do we determine what it is, and what it is not? Can it change, and if so, how?
When I'm having arguments where there is disagreement about what words mean, I try to be careful to avoid saying anything about what a word "really" means. Rather, I argue in terms of how the rest of us are using a word, or how English speakers in general use it.

Much like I did before when you said you were comfortable calling something a "mistake" so long as it started as a mistake and isn't currently used by 100% of the speakers of a particular language. In so doing, you have in one fell swoop declared the vast majority of modern language to be "mistakes", and as such are now using that word in a radically different way from how everyone else uses it.

And this is not necessarily "bad" in any objective sense, but it is an enormous hindrance to clear and consistent communication. Therefore you are using that word the "wrong" way to achieve your alleged goal of clear and consistent communication.
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby goofy » Thu Feb 02, 2012 12:06 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:How does a descriptivist account for that "(doesn't) really mean" construction? Is it meaningless? Or is it possible for a word to have a "real" meaning, and if so, how do we determine what it is, and what it is not? Can it change, and if so, how?


There is no meaning of a word that exists independently of how it is used. If someone says "that word doesn't really mean that", you can find out what the word means by examining how the word is used by the rest of the speech community. But in the end, you have to agree on a definition so you can continue with the discussion. I don't see this as a big philosophical problem.
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby Pfhorrest » Thu Feb 02, 2012 7:49 am UTC

goofy wrote:There is no meaning of a word that exists independently of how it is used. If someone says "that word doesn't really mean that", you can find out what the word means by examining how the word is used by the rest of the speech community. But in the end, you have to agree on a definition so you can continue with the discussion. I don't see this as a big philosophical problem.

So if a philosopher of language, like Putnam or Russel or Kripke or Frege, were to ask you your opinion on the question to which theories of reference (like the causal theory, or its main competitor, the descriptive theory) propose answers, which is roughly "how do terms acquire specific referents", how would you phrase your answer?
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby Eugo » Thu Feb 02, 2012 10:17 am UTC

goofy wrote:There is no meaning of a word that exists independently of how it is used. If someone says "that word doesn't really mean that", you can find out what the word means by examining how the word is used by the rest of the speech community. But in the end, you have to agree on a definition so you can continue with the discussion. I don't see this as a big philosophical problem.

There seems to be some common definition of "really means" among those who use the phrase, and from the historic sample I remember, the phrase usually means either previous usage, or a technical definition given by some authority within confines of some discipline. Sometimes it's even a former slang expression, which became mainstream with a different meaning. So, "really means" mostly means "means something else in another area which sticks to a different definition", with the undertones of "I know something that you don't, but I'll tell you".

Using the word "real" in any context, apart from "real vs unreal", is a red flag to me. It generally means that the author of the sentence is trying to convince the listener that something is fake, of lower value, or false for any reason, compared to the real thing, which he usually doesn't even mention.

I do use the term "real programmers", but only in a self-mocking manner.
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby goofy » Thu Feb 02, 2012 12:58 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:So if a philosopher of language, like Putnam or Russel or Kripke or Frege, were to ask you your opinion on the question to which theories of reference (like the causal theory, or its main competitor, the descriptive theory) propose answers, which is roughly "how do terms acquire specific referents", how would you phrase your answer?


I don't know enough about philosophy to answer. But I've already answered your questions "is it possible for a word to have a "real" meaning, and if so, how do we determine what it is, and what it is not?" I guess my answer wasn't good enough.
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby Pfhorrest » Thu Feb 02, 2012 8:43 pm UTC

goofy wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:So if a philosopher of language, like Putnam or Russel or Kripke or Frege, were to ask you your opinion on the question to which theories of reference (like the causal theory, or its main competitor, the descriptive theory) propose answers, which is roughly "how do terms acquire specific referents", how would you phrase your answer?


I don't know enough about philosophy to answer. But I've already answered your questions "is it possible for a word to have a "real" meaning, and if so, how do we determine what it is, and what it is not?" I guess my answer wasn't good enough.

I suppose what I am driving at is, from what you do know of it (from the wiki link I sent if nothing else), do you think the questions they are investigating are worthless or trivial or don't have answers? Because that's what your answer to my question seems (to me) to imply; and I wondered if I had just phrased my question poorly and non-equivalently to the question they're investigating, or if you would answer the same to the proper question.
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby Pfhorrest » Thu Feb 02, 2012 8:56 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Much like I did before when you said you were comfortable calling something a "mistake" so long as it started as a mistake and isn't currently used by 100% of the speakers of a particular language. In so doing, you have in one fell swoop declared the vast majority of modern language to be "mistakes", and as such are now using that word in a radically different way from how everyone else uses it.

Tangential to this, I think perhaps I should rephrase my criteria for when a usage ceases to be a current mistake (though its coinage, if mistaken, can never cease to have been a mistake), to catch the cases I think you're thinking of here.

It's not so much an issue of a single new usage becoming adopted by 100% of speakers, as it is the old usage dying out completely. If the old usage dies out completely, and two (both mistaken) alternate new usages take its place in different speech communities, then the language has split into different dialects, each with their own new local standard (now correct in current usage in that dialect), though both descendant from different mistakes. But if one part of the community begins a new (mistaken) usage, and some other part of the community is still continuing the old (standard) usage, then the mistaken usage can still be called a mistake, no matter how many people have adopted it.

It's a question of whether there is still anybody around to make sound arguments about the mistake, and the driving principle behind my position is that the soundness of an argument is independent of the number of people for or against it. So long as the dispute is ongoing, popularity doesn't matter. Once the dispute is over, whoever won can legitimately claim the spoils, though they may still have been ill-gotten. If two different invading armies killed off the natives together, then they can fight over divvying up the land if they want, but it's pointless to argue for giving it back to the now-dead indigenous population; though preserving or restoring the memory of their culture may be a noble endeavor, and if it were somehow possible to bring them back to life...
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby skullturf » Thu Feb 02, 2012 9:10 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:It's not so much an issue of a single new usage becoming adopted by 100% of speakers, as it is the old usage dying out completely. If the old usage dies out completely, and two (both mistaken) alternate new usages take its place in different speech communities, then the language has split into different dialects, each with their own new local standard (now correct in current usage in that dialect), though both descendant from different mistakes. But if one part of the community begins a new (mistaken) usage, and some other part of the community is still continuing the old (standard) usage, then the mistaken usage can still be called a mistake, no matter how many people have adopted it.

It's a question of whether there is still anybody around to make sound arguments about the mistake, and the driving principle behind my position is that the soundness of an argument is independent of the number of people for or against it. So long as the dispute is ongoing, popularity doesn't matter.


Emphasis added by me.

Do you think that the old usage must literally die out completely before the new usage can be considered not a mistake?

Suppose that a word like "decimate" or "nauseous" or "disinterested" or "penultimate", or whatever your favorite example is, starts getting used by more and more people in a way that deviates from the history of the word. Eventually, it gets to the point where 99.999 percent of the speakers now use the word in the newer sense, but there remain about 200 or 300 holdouts who insist on the older meaning.

In that scenario, is the newer usage a mistake? Even though 99.999 percent of the population does it?
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Feb 02, 2012 9:26 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:If the old usage dies out completely, and two (both mistaken) alternate new usages take its place in different speech communities, then the language has split into different dialects, each with their own new local standard (now correct in current usage in that dialect), though both descendant from different mistakes. But if one part of the community begins a new (mistaken) usage, and some other part of the community is still continuing the old (standard) usage, then the mistaken usage can still be called a mistake, no matter how many people have adopted it.
This strikes me as an absurd and arbitrary standard. If there are two mistakes that spread, they can magically become not mistakes at all, but if you only start with one mistake, it will continue being a mistake as long as not everyone adopts it?

Do you really think all dialect changes happen because two novel things replace a single older one? Because that's not the case at all. If one of the two groups uses an old form instead of an equally novel new form, does it cease to be a dialect difference? By your standard, non-rhotic accents are all incorrect, because there remain dialects where written <r>s are pronounced as such, and all written <r>s were originally pronounced as such.

Do you really mean to say that the pronunciation of standard British English is a mistake?
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby goofy » Thu Feb 02, 2012 9:38 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:I suppose what I am driving at is, from what you do know of it (from the wiki link I sent if nothing else), do you think the questions they are investigating are worthless or trivial or don't have answers?


I don't find them interesting questions. But I'm not sure I completely understand all this stuff about causal reference.
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Feb 03, 2012 11:35 am UTC

skullturf wrote:Do you think that the old usage must literally die out completely before the new usage can be considered not a mistake?

Yes. It's an issue of considering pairwise disputes between any two speakers of the language. Two people disagree about whether a usage is correct. If one of them has a sound argument for why the other's usage is incorrect (setting aside for now what a sound argument would be; just granting that in at least some circumstances, some usages are genuinely erroneous, and thus that sound arguments against them can be made), then it doesn't matter how many other people agree with them. Popularity is never relevant to the soundness of any argument. If there are no two speakers who disagree, or if neither has a sound argument in their favor, then such arguments either do not occur at all, or are irresolvable, neither side being able to justify telling the other that they are wrong, so by default both sides may continue their usages, founded originally in error though they may be.

gmalivuk wrote:Do you really think all dialect changes happen because two novel things replace a single older one? Because that's not the case at all. If one of the two groups uses an old form instead of an equally novel new form, does it cease to be a dialect difference? By your standard, non-rhotic accents are all incorrect, because there remain dialects where written <r>s are pronounced as such, and all written <r>s were originally pronounced as such.

Do you really mean to say that the pronunciation of standard British English is a mistake?


I'm not certain whether gradual and systemic phonetic shifts across the entire language count as the kind of discontinuity I object to as an error (unlike, say, arbitrarily mispronouncing a single word by a different phonetic standard than other words with the same linguistic heritage). But, if it was originally an error, then yes, it is still an error. If people with rhotic accents have a sound argument as to why non-rhotic pronunciation is mistaken, it doesn't matter how many people continue that erroneous pronunciation, it is still an error.

However, where I think you're seeing absurdity in this is assuming something I've never claimed: I'm not advocating going around and correcting other people's speech all the time. There are much more important things to worry about, most of the time, than whether a given bit of speech is exactly perfect. I'm not a grammar or spelling nazi, and I'm not a pronunciation nazi either. It's not even that I'm holding back from criticism; it genuinely doesn't bother me, and so long as I understand you I'm not going to subject you to death by a thousand nits picked. I don't even subject my own speech to this level of criticism; I'm generally lazy and put in whatever level of effort I feel like at the moment.

But, if you sit me down in front of a piece of writing and ask me to copyedit it, I will nitpick at the tiniest of things, by the kind of standards I'm advocating here. And if you were able to affect any arbitrary accent you wanted, and asked my advice on the most correct accept to affect (say, a foreigner learning to pronounce English for the first time), I would consider arguments about things like rhotic or non-rhotic accents, although that's never come up so I haven't given those kinds of arguments much thought as of yet.

There is a still further caveat: the above paragraph only strictly applies when I am critiquing with an eye for strict correctness, in the sense of precision, accuracy, clarity, etc. There are other circumstances when the speech or writing is not for that kind of dry purpose but is being put to more poetic use, and in those circumstances I have no objections to intentional breaks from that kind of mathematical precision for the sake of art. I do that myself quite frequently. I especially enjoy switching dynamically between the two in the same work; the contrast of the stylized form to the dryer form adds extra rhetorical emphasis to it.

So, maybe all non-rhotic accents are errors. Maybe everybody outside some tiny village in England speaks a horribly bastardized version of English and they're the only ones preserving the true form. But that doesn't mean I'm going to go around criticising everyone for it all the time, or even be that worked up about being "on the wrong side" myself. But, if I were to decide between two usages for their formal correctness, for whatever reason, my decision would be completely uninfluenced by the popularity of either usage. And that's the core point I've been advocating from the start: that when an argument of that sort breaks out, neither popularity nor authority have any bearing on its proper resolution.
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Feb 03, 2012 3:22 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:If one of them has a sound argument for why the other's usage is incorrect (setting aside for now what a sound argument would be; just granting that in at least some circumstances, some usages are genuinely erroneous, and thus that sound arguments against them can be made)
Please explain why there can't be a strong argument for both varieties. And I'm not yet willing to concede that some usages are generally erroneous, except to the extent that they are not common enough to be well understood by the rest of a language community.

However, where I think you're seeing absurdity in this is assuming something I've never claimed: I'm not advocating going around and correcting other people's speech all the time.
And I never suggested you were. The absurdity is in even thinking there's some "mistake" that needs to be "corrected" in the first place, because in so doing you are using a very unusual ("mistaken" by your own definitions) sense of those words. Which greatly impedes your ability to get your points across.

There is a still further caveat: the above paragraph only strictly applies when I am critiquing with an eye for strict correctness, in the sense of precision, accuracy, clarity, etc.
Strict "correctness" according to which standard? Which side of the Atlantic are you on? Which side of the Pacific? Even if you fancy yourself advocating strict correctness, you still have to make arbitrary decisions like this, because what's strictly correct in one place isn't in another.

Maybe everybody outside some tiny village in England speaks a horribly bastardized version of English and they're the only ones preserving the true form. But that doesn't mean I'm going to go around criticising everyone for it all the time, or even be that worked up about being "on the wrong side" myself.
Again, what's absurd about this isn't that I think you're going to correct anyone. It's the nonsensical notion that there's only one "true form" of English and that it's possible for this to be used by only a tiny minority of speakers.
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby Pfhorrest » Sat Feb 04, 2012 9:14 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Please explain why there can't be a strong argument for both varieties.

I said "sound", not merely "strong". There cannot be two completely sound arguments for contrary conclusions. You could have two strong arguments for two contrary conclusions, but that just means we're not entirely certain which conclusion is correct, though there is strong but inconclusive evidence suggestive of each.

However, I suppose I did exclude a case I've already previously admitted the validity of: a non-erroneous extension of meaning (say from a literal sense to a figurative or metaphorical sense, when the literal thing really makes a good metaphor for the figurative thing). In that case, users in both senses could make sound arguments as to why their use is valid, and both uses could be valid with no contrariety.

And I'm not yet willing to concede that some usages are generally erroneous, except to the extent that they are not common enough to be well understood by the rest of a language community.

I said "genuinely", not "generally"; I'm not sure if you meant genuinely here and just mistyped, or if you meant generally. By my position, any genuine errors are also generally (i.e. universally) errors; any anything which is not generally an error is not a genuine error at all (e.g. if two usages are both non-erroneous, then one being uncommon somewhere does not make it erroneous there). So if you're meaning to deny either then you're denying both, to me.

My position is basically the logical necessity of two more general principles:
1) Some linguistic constructions can sometimes be soundly judged as bad constructions for some reason.
2) The soundness of a judgement is never dependent on which people or how many people hold to it.

Either some constructions can be soundly judged as genuinely bad constructions, and the reasons behind those judgements are general, universal reasons, independent of authority or popularity; or, there is only popularity or authority to back those judgements, and the constructions are not genuinely bad, they are just unpopular or unauthorized, and so what.

To deny my position is to deny at least one of those two points... with a further caveat here, backing up to my earlier point, that there's a difference between correctly using an existing construction, and correctly making a new construction.

I stick to my two points above in the 'using' case too, because whether or not a use of an existing language construction is correct as a use still has nothing to do with whether it is authoritative or popular: if my audience understood me, it doesn't matter if they all disapprove of the use, or if an authority disapproves of it, it was used correctly enough because it conveyed what I meant it to convey to them; they understood me. (With a nested caveat here that all this is talking about the "dry" use of language to communicate unambiguously; my audience may have negative emotional reactions to my usage despite it being unambiguous, but the standards for "language-as-art" which is concerned with emotional sway are different from the standards of "language-as-math" which is concerned with unambiguous communication). This is the point that you keep reiterating and I agree completely with it, with regards to speech-as-using-existing-language.

Where we seem to disagree is in the 'making' case, and I'm not sure which of the two bullets you're preferring to bite there. I think I read you as saying that no linguistic constructions are really any better or worse than others, they're just either widely used or not, but then how do you rebut the argument from tools in general to languages in particular I made earlier? (e.g. there being a skilled community of users of a given hammer design doesn't mean that a different hammer design wouldn't be more effective, used properly for its design, than the existing hammers used properly for their design).

I could also read you as saying that actual usage is the only factor in the evaluation of the quality of a given construction, that there is no actually better or worse usage by any independent standard, but that popular decree is normative enough anyway. I have another argument defending the general principle against appeals to authority or popularity, if you do mean to take that position, but I think you're more likely saying the first, in which case we're back to arguing about languages as tools and speakers as tool-makers, which we kind of dropped before.

you are using a very unusual ("mistaken" by your own definitions) sense of those words

My own definition of "mistaken" has nothing to do with "usual" usage, if by that you mean common usage; I just wrote a long spiel against that above. If you mean "usual" as "historically continuous" or whatever, then how is my use of "mistake" to mean roughly "a position or action against which a sound argument can be made" (together with the principle that popularity or authority never a sound argument make) somehow discontinuous with "usual" usage?
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby goofy » Sat Feb 04, 2012 3:24 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
My position is basically the logical necessity of two more general principles:
1) Some linguistic constructions can sometimes be soundly judged as bad constructions for some reason.
2) The soundness of a judgement is never dependent on which people or how many people hold to it.


As to 1), you still haven't shown how to objectively measure whether a usage is bad.

As to 2), when it comes to language usage, which people and how many people use it is the most important bit of evidence to consider. If only one person uses a construction with meaning X and everyone else in the speech community uses the construction with meaning Y, then it's insane to claim that X is correct. Language works because speakers have a shared knowledge of what terms mean and how to use them. If you're using a word with a meaning that no one else uses, then your communication isnt working. It doesn't matter if you're "using" or "making" the construction by sound logical or etymological principles, if it is not how the rest of the population uses it, then you're not conforming to linguistic norms, and how is anyone going to understand you?

Pfhorrest wrote:I think I read you as saying that no linguistic constructions are really any better or worse than others, they're just either widely used or not, but then how do you rebut the argument from tools in general to languages in particular I made earlier? (e.g. there being a skilled community of users of a given hammer design doesn't mean that a different hammer design wouldn't be more effective, used properly for its design, than the existing hammers used properly for their design).

That might be an interesting philosophical question. But I don't think language works that way or can be made to work that way. Speakers use whatever language Is available to them to communicate as best they can. What you call "errors" are made and propagate and become the norm. Polysemy abounds, and one word can have many wildly different meanings. This is completely normal. Sometimes people try to propose reforms that would make English more logical or whatever, but speakers ignore it and carry on using whatever language they have to communicate as best they can.
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Re: Neither a descriptivist nor a prescriptivist be

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Feb 04, 2012 3:40 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:In that case, users in both senses could make sound arguments as to why their use is valid, and both uses could be valid with no contrariety.
Despite these sound arguments being for different uses?

My position is basically the logical necessity of two more general principles:
1) Some linguistic constructions can sometimes be soundly judged as bad constructions for some reason.
2) The soundness of a judgement is never dependent on which people or how many people hold to it.
I do not agree with these premises taken together (that is, if you're going to stick with your assertion that a "sound" argument about language can have nothing to do with actual usage, then I deny that any linguistic constructions can be soundly judged as "bad").

if my audience understood me, it doesn't matter if they all disapprove of the use, or if an authority disapproves of it, it was used correctly enough because it conveyed what I meant it to convey to them; they understood me. (With a nested caveat here that all this is talking about the "dry" use of language to communicate unambiguously; my audience may have negative emotional reactions to my usage despite it being unambiguous, but the standards for "language-as-art" which is concerned with emotional sway are different from the standards of "language-as-math" which is concerned with unambiguous communication). This is the point that you keep reiterating and I agree completely with it, with regards to speech-as-using-existing-language.
Again with this weird insistence on sometimes treating natural language like it's some kind of programming language. What I mean to convey to people with a speech act is never solely the barest literal logical proposition denoted by the words I use. If one has any goals beyond the audience understanding a simple logical proposition, which I contend is always the case, then those other goals are also relevant in judging the "correctness" of an utterance.

I think I read you as saying that no linguistic constructions are really any better or worse than others, they're just either widely used or not, but then how do you rebut the argument from tools in general to languages in particular I made earlier? (e.g. there being a skilled community of users of a given hammer design doesn't mean that a different hammer design wouldn't be more effective, used properly for its design, than the existing hammers used properly for their design).
Likewise a speaker or writer of a language may come up with a different construction that is more effective, used properly for its design, than existing constructions used properly for their designs. This is how new words or phrases get coined.

However, completely unlike the case with hammers, the effectiveness of a new linguistic construction depends entirely on how it is received by the audience. I don't need to concern myself with whether other carpenters will understand why I'm using the hammer I am, because presumably the task I wish to accomplish with it doesn't depend on those other carpenters in any way. But not so with language, and therefore the conventions already in place among the skilled community of language speakers are extremely relevant to the effectiveness of a new linguistic construction.

how is my use of "mistake"...somehow discontinuous with "usual" usage?
If you describe things as mistakes that almost no one else would ever describe as such (e.g. non-rhotic accents), then clearly your use of that word can't match up with the usual use of that word.

Which is to say, I don't have to investigate too deeply how different people would define "mistake" as they use it. I need only check which things they actually apply the word "mistake" to, in practice, to see that you're using it in a radically different way.
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