Steven Pinker strikes back: "False Fronts in the Language Wars: Why New Yorker writers and others keep pushing bogus controversies", Slate 5/31/2012.
Nature or nurture. Love it or leave it. If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.
If you didn’t already know that euphonious dichotomies are usually phony dichotomies, you need only check out the latest round in the supposed clash between “prescriptivist” and “descriptivist” theories of language.
I still chortle whenever I think of Joan Acocella's hallucinatory pairing of Steve-Pinker-the-descriptivist against John-Rickford-the-prescriptivist. This is roughly like matching John-Roberts-the-conservative against Antonin-Scalia-the-liberal, or Henry-James-the-homespun-American against Mark-Twain-the-European-Aristocrat. It combines a deep attachment to facile stereotypes with an equally profound ignorance of the individuals under discussion.
Last week, the producer for a Canadian radio program, simultaneously inspired by Acocella's article and by the controversy kicked up by the AP Style Guide's acceptance of evaluative hopefully, tried to set up a sort of Cage Match between me as the Descriptive Destroyer and John Rickford as the Prescriptive Punisher (this is my characterization, but I believe that it corresponds pretty closely to what she wanted). I suggested that hopefully is a relatively uncontroversial case, at least among semi-sensible people, so that she would have a hard time finding anyone un-ironically accepting its use as a Sign of the Apocalypse. I also pointed out that John and I would have a hard time finding anything to argue about, even with respect to less light-weight issues.
She accepted my suggestion of Bryan Garner as a more reasonable choice for my opponent in the Scrimmage of the 'Scriptivists; but she clung to the idea of featuring hopefully as the last desperate hope of civilization. So I wrote a couple of LLOG posts, at first to try to persuade her to chose another theme for the battle, and then to prepare myself for the apparently-inevitable Clash of Titans.
The result: at the last minute, I was told that "as much I hate to renege our request, I'm afraid we've decided to go with someone else who feels very passionate about (pro) hopefully".
You can listen to the debate here: "Where do you stand on 'hopefully'?", Q 5/29/2012.