Menand on linguistic morality

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Louis Menand (“Thumbspeak“, The New Yorker, 10/20/2008) aims a gibe at my profession:

[P]rofessional linguists, almost universally, do not believe that any naturally occurring changes in the language can be bad.

As a representative of the species, I can testify that this is false. Rather, we believe that moral and aesthetic judgments about language should be based on facts, not on ignorant and solipsistic gut reactions.

Unfortunately, it’s precisely ignorant and solipsistic gut reactions that tend to dominate discussions of English usage, and so linguists and other sensible people are forced to spend time trying to clear things up. This sometimes leads to the false impression that we have no stylistic opinions or grammatical judgments.

For example, last week I commented on the discussion of “Verbage” by Prof. Menand’s fellow literary critic and New Yorker staffer, James Wood. Now in fact, I’ll join Mr. Wood (and my fellow linguist Geoff Nunberg) in recommending against pronouncing verbiage as [ˈvɚ.bɪdʒ], or using it to mean “The manner in which something is expressed in words”. But Mr. Woods treated this as Gov. Sarah Palin’s “coinage”, and wrote that “It would be hard to find a better example of the Republican disdain for words than that remarkable term, so close to garbage, so far from language”. In contrast, I took the trouble to do 30 or 40 seconds of research, and discovered that the American Heritage Dictionary gives both her pronunciation and her meaning as secondary options, without any usage note, as does Merriam-Webster; and that the Oxford English dictionary traces the meaning “Diction, wording, verbal expression” back to Wellington in 1804, and forward through the 19th century.

Geoff Nunberg, who was the chair of the AHD usage panel, expresses the opinion that the lack of a usage note in this case was an error; and on balance, I agree with him.  But that doesn’t excuse Mr. Wood’s childish egocentrism, which assumes without checking that “This isn’t how I pronounce or use this word, so it must be wrong; and I don’t recall having seen this before, so it must never have happened before”. Nor does it excuse his magazine’s characteristic failure to exercise its duty to check the facts of language in the same way that it checks facts of biography or geography.

Prof. Menand’s little poke at David Crystal was shorthand for a larger argument, which we’ve discussed many times here on Language Log. For example, in “Amid this vague uncertainty, who walks safe?” (2/23/2007), I quoted this passage from an Op-Ed by Alex Rose:

This conflict lies at the heart of the so-called “Usage Wars,” the epic battle between the “Descriptivists” and the “Prescriptivists.”

To a Descriptivist, there are no such things as “correct” or “incorrect” where language is concerned.

There is only the multi-faceted spectrum of human communication and the myriad ways in which people convey meaning to one another. Descriptivists correctly note that language, like etiquette or fashion, is largely a function of class; a society’s official rules of grammar and lexicon reflect the attitudes of whoever happens to be in power.

The Prescriptivists, however, believe that language is as much an art form as a utility. It’s one thing to name objects and command that traffic laws be obeyed, another thing to express oneself with clarity, precision and cultivation. It’s the difference between playing a scale and playing a sonata; between eating for nourishment and eating for pleasure. One way gets the job done, the other gets it done well.

My response:

In untangling the confusions in this passage, it’s hard to know where to start.

Let me decline to enlist on either side of this concocted War of the ‘Scriptivists, and speak instead on behalf of a third group: the Rational People. We believe in making value judgements about language use: some writers are better than others, and even good writers sometimes make poor choices and outright mistakes. But we also believe in the value of facts, both about linguistic history and about current usage. We’re unwilling to accept the assertions of self-appointed linguistic authorities about what is “right” and “wrong” in standard formal English, if these assertions conflict with the way that the best writers write. We understand that vernacular forms of English are not faulty or degenerate approximations to the formal standard — instead, they’re just, well, vernacular. We’re willing to accept, as Horace was, that new words and structures, and new uses of old words and structures, can be a valuable addition even to the most formal linguistic registers.

In a nutshell: we don’t worship our own prejudices, and we’re more curious than censorious.

There’s a characteristic psychological dynamic here. People like Mr. Rose see a bit of writing or talk that irks them. They’re not interested in analyzing the problematic usage, tracing its history, looking at its contemporary distribution and its relationship to other phenomenon, exploring the nature of their own reaction to it — no, they just want to make those people stop, dammit. And they want the rest of us to join them in howling at the miscreants. If we suggest a more temperate investigation, or dare to question whether a crime has been committed at all, they turn their wrath on us as well. In fact, our analytic detachment seems to annoy them even more than the object of their jihad does.

For more of the same, you can sample the list of links to Language Log Classic from that same post, given below, or look at our recent posts filed under the category of “Prescriptivist Poppycock“. (Perhaps we really ought have a counterbalancing category “Descriptivist Dumbness”, or a simple superordinate “‘Scriptivist Silliness”; but alas,  it’s harder to find good examples of nonsense from the descriptivist side.)

Dangling etiquette” (12/14/2003)
Cullen Murphy draws the line” (12/27/2003)
At a loss for lexicons” (2/9/2004)
Sidney Goldberg on NYT grammar: zero for three” (9/17/2004)
Not a word!” (11/17/2004)
‘Everything is correct’ versus ‘nothing is relevant’” (1/26/2005)
The fellowship of the predicative adjunct” (5/12/2005)
Zero for three on grammar, minus three, makes -3” (6/8/2006)
Go and synergize no more” (6/9/2006)
There’s no battle, Morgan!” (6/28/2006)
Does Julia Gillard know subjects from objects?” (12/19/2006)
Less than three years: a policy revision” (1/04/2007)
Stupid wild over-the-top anti-linguist rant” (1/19/2007)
I have different determiner constraints so you’re awful” (2/5/2007)
If you can possibly do without them they must be banned” (2/10/2007)
The split verbs mystery” (8/23/2008)

[I should also note that back in 2003, Prof. Menand championed a very strange set of ideas about the proper interaction of possessives and pronouns in English, against baffled attempts by Geoff Pullum and Arnold Zwicky to come to terms with his views.]

[More here.]



34 Comments

  1. Peter said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 7:09 am

    There’s a larger criticism to be made of Menand’s rant against texting, of course. That is that he seems to be offended by other people communicating with one another via a medium that he would, himself, prefer not to use. I find it hard to treat seriously such a position when usage of the medium is entirely voluntary. What next? Rants against people writing with their left hand?

    [(myl) Indeed. This post started as a brief aside, in the beginning of a longer discussion of the truly weird content of Menand’s review. For example, he writes

    In some respects, texting is a giant leap backward in the science of communication. It’s more efficient than semaphore, maybe, but how much more efficient is it than Morse code?

    I intended to observed in response that texting is similar in sending speed to well-practiced morse code, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to learn to use; and the savings in telegraph wire and poles are also considerable. But my opening paragraph got away from me.]

  2. Sridhar Ramesh said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 7:20 am

    I realize this is essentially responding to a post more than a year and a half old, but re: “Let me decline to enlist on either side of this concocted War of the ‘Scriptivists, and speak instead on behalf of a third group: the Rational People.”, does this not cede too much (if only because of the impressions likely to be taken from it by anyone already in a position to be the target of such a comment)? Surely, most self-labelled “Descriptivists” are largely in agreement with the positions you’ve set out as those of “Rational People”.

    [(myl) Yes, I think that this is true (though see language hat’s comment below). But by accepting the label “Descriptivist”, in implicit opposition to “Prescriptivist”, we risk accepting the caricatured position associated with it. I’d go further, in fact, and suggest that it might be good idea to avoid the term “Prescriptivist” as well, since it evokes what is mostly a false dichotomy. ]

  3. Leon said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 7:52 am

    Have you ever made a negative value judgment about some nonstandard English variant being used in a Standard English context?

    [(myl) Yes. There’s one in this post, in fact.]

    In Menand’s defence, the rest of the article criticizes the medium of texting in general, not only the kind of language use it encourages. Peter — his argument is a little more sophisticated than you suggest. A more fleshed-out article on a similar theme — the fragmented, staccato nature of much digital communication, and its possible effects on our brains — can be found in this article from the Atlantic a few months ago. I think these are pretty reasonable concerns.

    Also, Menand presumably read the Crystal book, and has heard these counterarguments. He does mention historical language variation, etc., in passing.

  4. language hat said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 8:22 am

    Menand says:

    [P]rofessional linguists, almost universally, do not believe that any naturally occurring changes in the language can be bad.

    You respond:

    As a representative of the species, I can testify that this is false. Rather, we believe that moral and aesthetic judgments about language should be based on facts, not on ignorant and solipsistic gut reactions.

    I do not think you have the right, even “as a representative of the species,” to testify that it is false. All you can say is that you, as one representative, disagree. I personally am happy to sign on to the Descriptivist position as “caricatured” and state that there is no such thing as bad language change. This is, of course, quite different from saying I have no personal feelings about any given change; one would have to be a robot not to have such feelings. But I am capable of holding in my mind at one and the same time the propositions “change is just change, it is not good or bad of itself” and “I, as a human being who grew up in a particular time and got used to particular styles of language, music, clothing, and so on, naturally like what I am used to and am uncomfortable with some of the new styles that have developed since I reached maturity.” It seems to me that any scientist worthy of the name should be able to separate those two things. To say any form of language change is “bad” is to be ipso facto unscientific.

  5. language hat said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 8:24 am

    And in general, I think you should be less cavalier in mocking people whose ideas about language (like those of almost everyone not trained in linguistics) are mistaken. Menand is a brilliant critic and a fine writer; it is not his fault that the American educational system has failed him in this regard.

  6. James said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 8:35 am

    Two Analogies.

    1. A chemist can believe that some uses of chemicals are bad, while maintaining that his job as a chemist is to describe, and not to prescribe. So why can’t a linguist have her own preferences, even values regarding usage, and so on, while insisting that her role *as linguist* is to describe?
    A flaw in this analogy is that chemists do not primarily describe what people do with chemicals, while linguists almost exclusively describe what people do with words. So maybe sociology would be in this way a better analog.

    2. A baseball analyst may certainly have the opinion that the designated hitter rule is an abominable innovation, while recognizing that it is indeed the rule for games in an AL ballpark; he will not decry its use by Charlie Manuel later this week.
    Yeah, I like that one.

  7. Mark Liberman said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 8:39 am

    language hat: I do not think you have the right, even “as a representative of the species,” to testify that it is false. All you can say is that you, as one representative, disagree. I personally am happy to sign on to the Descriptivist position as “caricatured” and state that there is no such thing as bad language change. This is, of course, quite different from saying I have no personal feelings about any given change; one would have to be a robot not to have such feelings.

    With respect, you contradict yourself. If “X is bad” is taken to mean “I don’t like X” or “I wish that X hadn’t happened”, or even “X is inappropriate in circumstances Y”, then pretty much all the linguists I know sometimes think that a particular language change is “bad”.

    That’s not the same as agreeing that an innovation is “ungrammatical”,”mistaken” etc., much less morally degenerate. But members of the public, including non-linguist intellectuals, commonly interpret your position as a principled refusal to make any stylistic or aesthetic judgments. Which, I submit, it is not.

  8. Mark Liberman said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 8:46 am

    language hat: I think you should be less cavalier in mocking people whose ideas about language (like those of almost everyone not trained in linguistics) are mistaken. Menand is a brilliant critic and a fine writer; it is not his fault that the American educational system has failed him in this regard.

    To start with, I didn’t (mean to) mock Menand in this post, except by association with James Wood, whose piece on verbage amply deserves mockery, in my opinion. And (as I think you know), I’ve tried to make “I blame the linguists” into a catch phrase to describe situations of this kind.

    But let’s not go too far in letting Prof. Menand and others like him off the hook. As you say, he’s a brilliant critic whose line of work involves the analysis of language; and not everything that he knows was taught to him in school. At a certain point, we need to hold people responsible for what they choose to fail to know.

  9. Andy J said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 10:05 am

    Menard’s premise (for the purposes of this posting at least) was that “Professional linguists, almost universally, do not believe that any naturally occurring changes in the language can be bad”. Apart from your personal assertion that this is not the case, I don’t see any real evidence that this premise is not true – and Language Hat tends to support this view where he differentiates between the professional work of a linguist and the personal prejudices of that same person. I agree with LH’s point that “To say any form of language change is “bad” is to be ipso facto unscientific” and as linguists maintain that their calling is a science, perhaps QED should be my final point.

    [(myl) I’ve argued elsewhere that “Prescriptivist Science” is a perfectly plausible and indeed desirable activity. Unfortunately, most of the people who are inclined in the prescriptivist direction are curiously uninterested in any evidence beyond their own gut reactions.]

    But no, I would also like to suggest Pragmatism as the third position vis a vis the ‘scriptivisms, rather than the Rational People. Dogma vs Pragma vs Onoma (sorry my Greek is a little rusty)

  10. bulbul said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 10:08 am

    The definition of “bad” is something I would have started with in my critique and/or mocking of Menand. The use of that particular adjective should have been the first clue of the bullshit to come. Menand is indeed a fine writer and as such, he could and should have been more specific. The fact that he did not choose to speaks volumes.

  11. Sky Onosson said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 10:11 am

    You’ve hit the nail squarely on the head in your response to Rose. Nothing irks someone who cannot maintain their composure so much as someone who can.

  12. Ellen K said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 11:54 am

    Seems to me that professional linguists know not just their own views, but are familiar with other linguists and their views, and that is why Mark Liberman , as a “representative of the species”, can testify whether something is “almost universally” true of them.

  13. bianca steele said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 1:03 pm

    I agree that “pragmatism” would be a good choice for what ML calls “the Rational People.” “Rational People” suggests people who decide what they think by considering what makes sense to do or not do, what helps or makes things worse. “Scriptivists,” on the other hand, are people who live by the letter: theorists, who decide what they think by deducing conclusions from first principles, without regard to the real-world consequences if their conclusions are taken as true, or to whether all their conclusions cohere (which sounds more censorious than I mean it to be).

  14. language hat said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 2:30 pm

    Seems to me that professional linguists know not just their own views, but are familiar with other linguists and their views, and that is why Mark Liberman , as a “representative of the species”, can testify whether something is “almost universally” true of them.

    Except that I don’t think he’s right. I think he’s generalizing from a small sample of linguists who have (from my point of view) weirdly quasi-prescriptivist views about language. I have never known in person a professional linguist who would say a usage or change was “bad.”

  15. Menand on linguistic morality « ESOL World News said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 2:59 pm

    […] Menand on linguistic morality LANGUAGE LOG–Louis Menand (”Thumbspeak“, The New Yorker, 10/20/2008) aims a gibe at my profession: [P]rofessional linguists, almost universally, do not believe that any naturally occurring changes in the language can be bad. As a representative of the species, I can testify that this is false. Rather, we believe that moral and aesthetic judgments about language should be based full story […]

  16. Simon Cauchi said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 3:01 pm

    I do wish people would stop contrasting “descriptivist” and “prescriptivist” linguistics. The true contrast (surely?) is between descriptive and historical linguistics, between the study of languages as they are spoken today and the study of languages as they have changed over the years. Historical linguistics, it seems to me, is far too little mentioned in Language Log.

  17. Andy J said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 3:19 pm

    I don’t think Menand’s so-called gibe against linguists is any such thing. To re-phrase what he said : linguists, almost universally, believe that any naturally occurring changes in the language can’t be bad. Surely the key here is “naturally occurring” ie what all languages have always done, with or without prescriptivism. As Language Hat says, no linguist is likely to say that the process is bad because that would be to fly in the face of history. It’s a bit like saying when you reach your destination, “it would probably have been quicker if I had taken the turnpike”: it’s a theoretical observation. Prescriptivism is just a stone in the shoe of language development/evolution/mutation; it may slow it down at times, but the stone still makes the same journey as the owner of the shoe.

  18. bulbul said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 3:27 pm

    I have never known in person a professional linguist who would say a usage or change was “bad.”
    That’s precisely the point: the adjective “bad” in this context is almost completely devoid of meaning. Menand uses it as a more upscale (or perhaps grown-up?) version of “Yikes!”, “Gross!” and “Ugh!”. In this respect, Prof. Liberman is exactly right – Menand is speaking from the gut. In his mind, there seem to be only two ways to classify changes in a language – good or bad. That, of course, is nonsense. No linguist – whether professional or not – worth their salt would ever use the adjective “bad” when describing a change in usage or grammar. We should, as Language Hat pointed out, differentiate between our professional opinions and our personal tastes. It’s this very ability that sets us apart from the Prescriptivists and other non-scientists. And if we decide to express those personal tastes, we should do better than “that’s bad”.
    What is unfortunate is that instead of mocking Menand for this nonsensical use of “bad” which almost certainly was a strategical choice, you, Prof. Liberman, take his statement at face value. It seems you got a little carried away yourself and thus missed an excellent opportunity to give Menand a good thrashing he truly deserves.

  19. Stuart said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

    As a lay person and pieriansipist, I have a question about this statement:
    “Rather, we believe that moral and aesthetic judgments about language should be based on facts, not on ignorant and solipsistic gut reactions.”

    How can aesthetic judgments be based on facts? If beauty, or aesthetics, is a subjective thing, how can judgments about it be based on fact? I loathe the word fuck because to me it is an ugly, aggressive sound that I simply don’t hearing or saying. That is anaesthetic judgment, but it’s not based on fact. How could it be? I am very interested to know how aesthetic judgments can be based on facts, unless one counts the fact that the person making the judgment believes that judgment to be correct.

  20. Stephen Jones said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 3:31 pm

    ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ seem totally alien concepts when dealing with language change.

    We can say based on our knowledge of the language that there are numerous phrases which are ‘not English” and as an EFL teacher I make that call dozens of times a day, but the Prescriptivists have a peculiar quirk; they only ever attack as ‘bad English’ phrases and words that are long-established in the language because if they weren’t they’d never have noticed them.

    We can make plenty of judgement calls about whether a certain usage is appropriate in a certain register, or in a certain geographical or social dialect, but if changes occur in the language all we can do is note them, and not where they occur.

  21. Stephen Jones said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 3:45 pm

    The Menand piece seems absolutely pointless. “Look, there’s this thing called texting, which I don’t use and don’t understand, but I’m going to give you some random brainfarts about it because I need to be au fait with the latest technology or they may give my column to somebody more clued up.”

  22. bulbul said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 3:49 pm

    Andy J,

    the problem is that Menand does not say what he means by “bad” and judging by the text of the article, “bad” is “pretty bad”. Consider the quote above. The very next sentence reads:

    So his conclusions are predictable: texting is not corrupting the language;

    A little further down:

    A trillion text messages, Crystal says, “appear as no more than a few ripples on the surface of the sea of language.”

    Apparently language is threatened by corruption and Crystal (and other professional linguists) is a fool who does not recognize the signs of the impending cataclysm.

    As Language Hat says, no linguist is likely to say that the process is bad because that would be to fly in the face of history
    I don’t think that’s what he says. It’s not that saying that something is “bad” would fly in the face of whoever. It’s just that it’s not something a scientist would say. No self-respecting linguist would ever utter the phrase (I’m using the first thing that popped into my mind) “The apparent loss of the palatal lateral approximant in Standard Slovak is bad”. As a linguist, it is my duty to find out if that loss is real or just perceived most and if, what is the cause of the change, how far along it is etc. And of course I do have an opinion about this change: I find it regrettable mostly for esthetic reasons and for reasons that would be be described as historically sentimental (I see ľ as part of our national heritage) and I also wish I would be able to stop it. See what I just did? I described my feelings and opinions as accurately as I could. That somehow seems more appropriate then just blurting out “Losing ľ is bad!”.

  23. Sridhar Ramesh said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 3:54 pm

    Hm… when I claimed that most “Descriptivists” were indeed “Rational People”, I was mainly referring to maintaining the ability to make stylistic and aesthetic judgements, but in the context of critiquing particular individual works. But as the argument between Mark Liberman and languagehat continues, it seems their main point of contention is whether one can also make such judgements of broad changes, naturally wrought, in language itself (is that correct?). I am inclined to be much more skeptical of such judgements, but let’s actually see one. What would be an example of a language change which is rationally describable as “bad”?

  24. language hat said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 4:09 pm

    As a lay person and pieriansipist, I have a question about this statement:
    “Rather, we believe that moral and aesthetic judgments about language should be based on facts, not on ignorant and solipsistic gut reactions.”

    How can aesthetic judgments be based on facts?

    I have the same question, and wish Mark would elaborate.

    as the argument between Mark Liberman and languagehat continues

    I’m not sure we’re arguing so much as expressing our different perspectives on the elephant, so to speak. I don’t think Mark is “wrong,” I’m just trying to understand to what extent he makes a distinction between his personal feelings about linguistic facts (“I don’t like this”) and his point of view as a linguist; bulbul summed up my feelings on the matter perfectly.

  25. bulbul said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 4:16 pm

    Stephen,

    The Menand piece seems absolutely pointless.
    I wouldn’t say that. For one, it does contain a lot of interesting information – I didn’t know about “älä unta nää” or “hosipa” (which would more appropriately translated as “I don’t remember shit”). Then there are a few LOL or perhaps WTF moments like “a tendency toward the Englishing of world languages” or “Back when most computing was done on a desktop”. But mostly it’s a fascinating collection of various kinds of weasel argumentation and BS reasoning.

  26. Andy J said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 4:23 pm

    @bulbul. Yes I entirely accept your point. I’m not here to defend Menand, but I assume from his use of the word ‘professional’ before linguists he was intimating that in their professional capacities, linguists were pre-disposed to not thinking of naturally occurring changes as bad per se; that, of course, doesn’t preclude such linguists from holding personal, unscientific opinions on those same changes.
    My point really was that Prof Liberman chose to write (or quote) some 1105 words effectively saying “we linguists aren’t descriptivists, we’re neutral” when Menand was not not actually saying that. By all means challenge Menand’s opinions on texting, or his criticism of Crystal’s book, but hanging it on a flimsy hook of defending the integrity of linguists worldwide is not, in my view, the best way into the argument.
    @Stuart. What on earth is a ‘pieriansipist’?

  27. Andy J said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 5:00 pm

    @Sridhar Ramesh. “What would be an example of a language change which is rationally describable as “bad”?”
    I certainly wouldn’t use the word bad to describe any naturally occurring change in a language, but I would argue that some, possibly abortive, changes are not rational, or to use my preferred word, pragmatic. For example if a (notional) language has 44 words for snow and only one for tree, it is not pragmatic if over time the meaning of the tree word changes to mean some species of snow, if that then leaves the language bereft of tree words. This may happen because the land where the language is spoken has no trees, so it is felt there is no need for the word to describe them.
    It is not pragmatic for the same word (eg billion) to have two separate, possibly confusing, meanings in two separate groups of speakers ostensibly speaking the ‘same’ language. But it is not an argument for a prescriptive approach. The natural process of language evolution will grind down the truly anomalous, in a form of linguistic survival of the fittest. Words marked obsolete or archaic in dictionaries attest to this process at work; some may re-enter everyday language at some stage while others are destined only to serve as part of the fossil record of a language’s development.

  28. Congress plans bailout for grammar epidemic « GV Hawaii Adrift said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 7:42 pm

    […] the many effective methods that will encourage those suffering from this problem to seek treatment. Responses from the linguistic community have already begun to […]

  29. John Cowan said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 8:09 pm

    “There are no ugly natural objects, nor animals, plants, stones, or waters, and even less are there ugly stars in the sky. We have been taught to call ugly (“ugly beast”) certain animals considered harmful, but their natural ugliness ends there.

    –Primo Levi, “The Fear of Spiders” in Other People’s Trades

  30. jamessal said,

    October 22, 2008 @ 8:16 pm

    Ever seen a possum?

  31. the other Mark P said,

    October 23, 2008 @ 5:32 am

    “it is not his fault that the American educational system has failed him in this regard.”

    As if there was an education system anywhere that guaranteed people would speak grammatically.

  32. bulbul said,

    October 23, 2008 @ 6:42 am

    Andy J,

    it’s precisely the use of the adjective “professional” that irks me. It’s as if Menand was saying “these people ought to recognize the signs of the language apocalypse, but they don’t, oh what fools!”

  33. Bad language « ESOL World News said,

    October 23, 2008 @ 10:23 am

    […] do not believe that any naturally occurring changes in the language can be bad” (”Menand on linguistic morality“, 10/22/2008).  And I was quickly taken to task in the comments by Steve Dodson, who is the […]

  34. Dave2 said,

    October 26, 2008 @ 11:03 pm

    Hey, what about Menand’s bizarre belief that his readers can be expected to know what J’ai acheté du vin means? Apparently New Yorker readers all know French, but not German, Czech, or Finnish. (And they really don’t know Czech, since Menand thinks he can bowdlerize Hovno si pamatuju and get away with it.)

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