Ask Language Log: Prescriptivism in Europe

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From yesterday's mail:

An idle question from a big Language Log fan:  Do you have any idea if the nice folks in, say Germany or Italy or Spain, go as nuts as Americans seem to when native speakers make "fundamental" grammar errors?

It appears that the strong form of "going nuts" that we've called word rage is mainly an Anglophone phenomenon, with the British as the originators and still the champions. But the sociolinguistic settings in Germany, Italy, and Spain are very different from the situation in the U.S. — and as a result, they have their own kinds of language wars over there.

The most obvious difference is the role of traditional local language varieties. Each of the European standard languages developed in the midst of a complex dialect continuum, where differences increase with geographical and social distance, and enough distance creates differences like those between German and Dutch, or French and Italian. As a result, many if not most Europeans speak a local "dialect" that is very different in morphology, pronunciation, and word stock from the standard national language that they also control to one extent or another; and in practice, the local and standard varieties are often mixed to a variable degree depending on circumstances.

Something of the same kind is also true in the U.S., but the differences are generally not as great.

Do our European friends comment among themselves as often as Americans seem to about their neighbor's grammar?

I don't know the facts about the conversational density of metalinguistic commentary, and I don't think that anyone has ever studied this empirically. But in Europe, there's more to talk about, since geographical and social differences among language varieties are bigger and more complicated.

Do Germans hotly chastise newspaper editors for an occasional faulty case? Do the Spanish roll their eyes when a writer fails to employ the subjunctive? Do Italians suspect the imminent demise of civilization if a subject and verb fail to agree?

There's apparently quite a bit of concern in Germany about the fate of the dative case, with journalists very much under the gun on this question. I'm not sure about the ideology of mood in Spanish, but there was a fair amount of discussion a few years ago about whether a Francophone mass murderer used the subjunctive appropriately.

Those are both instances of concern about the evolution of the standard national language, and there are plenty of those around.  But most European countries have one or more governmental institutions charged with establishing and maintaining language standards — the Institut für Deutsche Sprache, the Académie française, etc.– and perhaps this makes the citizenry less prone to take up pitchforks and torches on their own initiative.

A different sort of struggle is described by Jillian Cavanaugh in "Remembering and Forgetting: Ideologies of Language Loss in a Northern Italian Town" (Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 14(1), 2008):

One wintry afternoon in the northern Italian town of Bergamo, I had coffee with Giani, a retired engineer in his mid-sixties, and talked about the impending loss of his dialetto ('dialect'), Bergamasco. Giani, speaking Italian with a strong Bergamasco accent, told me a story about the punishment children endured for speaking Bergamasco when he attended elementary school. Every morning, the first time the schoolteacher heard a child say something in Bergamasco, he or she would hand that child a wooden baton, which the children cheekily called—in Bergamasco—a bastù. This child held the baton until they heard another child speak Bergamasco, and then passed it on; this continued throughout the day. At the end of the school day, the teacher called the last unlucky child to the front of the class and made them tell who had passed them the baton. That child was then called up to the front to tell who had given it to them, and so on back to the original offender. The entire chain of Bergamasco-speaking children was then punished in front of everyone else (often with a strap). The next day, the gruesome relay began again. Giani laughed as he told me that on some days, practically the whole class would end up in the front of the room. "Everyone was poor and spoke Bergamasco," he said, "and though we suffered for it, we all got through it."

In most European countries, I believe that struggles of this kind remain very much alive. In some cases, the result is the loss of the local variety; in other cases — for example Catalan — the local variety has become established as a standard in its own right. In either case, the struggle seems to leave less ideological energy to spare for questions like whether a change in word sense threatens the foundations of civilization.



119 Comments

  1. Dougal Stanton said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 8:24 am

    I recently proof-read a Masters essay for a friend of mine, about attitudes to Jugendsprache in Germany. The usual suspects were there — text speak, instant messenger, etc etc — and there were plenty of doom mongers heralding the collapse of German civilisation as we know it.

    [(myl) The results of searching German-language news for {Jugendsprache} certainly supports this.

    A quick scan, though, suggests that the complaints are more about formality and neologisms than about the equivalent of which/that, imply/infer, singular they, and so on.]

  2. bulbul said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 8:44 am

    Here in Slovakia, you do occasionally get word rage, usually directed at dialectal features (mostly Bratislava accent and slang) used by media personalities, though there have also been instances of bloggers railing against particular syntactic constructions or word choices (see below). But hotly chastising a newspaper editor for a spelling error or for using the incorrect case ending – nah, doesn't happen. We prefer mockery, mostly because that's what we do and our opinion of newspaper people or journalists or public personae in general isn't that high anyway.
    As for Jazykový ústav Ľudovíta Štúra Slovenskej Akadémie Vied (the regulatory agency for Slovak), those guys seem to have abandonded the dark side. Back during the first outbreak of the swine flu, there was a great public debate over what is the correct form of the adjective – "prasací" as it reads in the dictionaries and spelling guides or "prasačí" as most native speakers of Slovak would say it? The language guardians at JÚĽŠ SAV were like "Well the former is more in line with Slovak morphophonology, but the other one – either borrowed from Czech or created by analogy, btw – is more frequent. Either one is fine with us. Peace out." I suspect that with all the corpus research they've been doing they finally got a good look at the actual usage and wised up. About time.
    What strikes me as strange is that no one seems to make fun of us Easterners and our dialect anymore. Maybe we're not that good a target now that we don't control all branches of the government or perhaps there's just too many us everywhere.

  3. Gregory Dyke said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 8:47 am

    In Germany, France, and Switzerland the situations are slightly different (I don't know about other countries).

    In Germany, you have the "high german" which serves as a lingua franca and the standard for written language. Pretty much everyone speaks a dialect which differs in several ways from this high german and, as far as I can tell, this is accepted so long as it doesn't transgress in their writing.

    In France, the foundation of french culture and unity is that Paris decides what everyone else should do. This means "one France, one language". Completely different languages such as Breton and Basque suffered extreme persecution, whereas the french dialects and the (fairly closely related) occitan dialects were relegated to being "patois": spoken by people who weren't educated enough to speak proper french. As a result, everyone speaks French and tries to speak it properly. There is a standard French and everything else is wrong (this mindset is so firmly entrenched that even movements to encourage the survival of minority languages tend to try to define "right" and "wrong"). Pretty much only differences in accent are tolerated.

    A major common theme between Germany and France is that, because of there being a body who makes decisions on what is accepted usage, it is hard to adopt a different position. My claim that 500000 people who say "ça pleut" instead of "il pleut" (for "it's raining") can't be wrong is often defeated by a simple "no, "ça pleut" is wrong [the academy says so]". The lack of an "everything goes" mentality lead people to get less angry about the whole business.

    In Switzerland, both speakers of German and French revert to their respective authorities for written language, but are very proud of the variations in their own numerous spoken dialects (huge differences in syntax, vocabulary and pronunciation for the swiss-germans, small differences in vocabulary and pronunciation for the french-speaking swiss).

  4. Leon said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 8:47 am

    What might be a sensible non-prescriptivist position on language academies (e.g. in France, Germany)?

    Do they tend to define their goals in terms of "standards" in a style guide-ish sense or "standards" in a purity/'high'-dialect-ish sense?

  5. Gregory Dyke said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 8:48 am

    Forgot to add that the French get their knickers in a twist about sms-language and about borrowing words from English.

  6. Leon said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 8:50 am

    Wow — answered before I had finished typing!

  7. MattF said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 8:57 am

    I wonder whether a 'bad' accent in a European (or British) context is a more serious matter than in the US. A Swiss-American couple I know decided not to settle in Bern because (so they said) a Bernese accent would mark their children for life as the Swiss equivalent of hillbillies.

  8. Joe said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 8:59 am

    In 1924, Lenin wrote an essay, "On the Cleansing of the Russian Language" where he bemoaned much of what Orwell complained about in "Politics and the English Language": the use of political jargon, the perceived loss of clarity, and language loss to foreign words. He concluded, "Is it not time to declare war on the corruption of the Russian language?" This lead to various policies that enforced "approved" vocabulary, much like the type of regulation that Orwell objected to in "1984". Orwell's point is, effectively, that language can be used as an instrument of ideological control and, presumably, this "word rage" is a kind of vigilance against that kind of control. Both Orwell's and Lenin's prescriptive linguistics are counterattacks to what they perceive as threats to their ideology. As much as Orwell's "Politics" essay is seen as common-sense prescriptions for writing well, you can't help but wonder why the examples he used for bad language were taken from writers with socialist sympathies (Laski, Hogben, etc.).

  9. Picky said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 9:02 am

    European (or British)?

  10. rapanui said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 9:04 am

    In Holland, there are quite a few leading columnists (such as H.J.A. Hofland and Jan Blokker) who incessantly complain about the supposed deterioration of the Dutch language. Typically for Holland (where everything is always more clumsy and less interesting than in the rest of the world), most debates focus on spelling- pretty much the most uninteresting aspect of language, I'd say.

  11. Picky said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 9:05 am

    @MattF: and this is a serious question, because I know Europeans (or, especially, British) have terrible class-based hang-ups with language – is there not an accent which would mark children as the American equivalent of hillbillies?

  12. MattF said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 9:05 am

    @Picky

    I employ an inclusive 'or', so being a subset is not excluded.

  13. MattF said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 9:09 am

    @Picky-sub-two

    A 'ghetto' accent would certainly be a problem for someone in the US, but that's something of a special case. Otherwise, I don't think that a regional accent, by itself, is a big deal.

    [(myl) There's a lot more regional and class language prejudice in the U.S. than you suggest, especially with respect to north-south, urban-rural, and elite-nonelite differences, where prejudices run strong in both directions. See e.g. "Those slurry, sleepy southerners" (2/25/2004), "A new record for within-U.S. linguistic prejudice?" (7/27/2004), "Out of the y'all zone" (9/18/2005).]

  14. Marco Neves said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 9:10 am

    Regarding Catalan, it really is a variety, but rather of the Latin language dialectal continuum and not of the Spanish language itself. Catalan has distinct origins and has enjoyed a period of great vitality in the Middle Ages, that would eventually be revived during the 19th century as a way of awakening Catalan "national identity". Today, it is one of the two official languages of the Autonomous Comunity of Catalonia and its use and spread is quite complex.

  15. Picky said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 9:10 am

    @MattF: By American I was of course including the subset "US"

  16. Elena said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 9:12 am

    Last year there was a kerfluffle in Spain when a female politician used the word "miembras" (the feminine for "members", which in Spanish orthodox use should have only the masculine gender: e.g. "Ellas son miembros de mi equipo") in a speech. It was duly noted that the Real Academia Española has three women of 46 total members, who generally speaking are on the elderly and conservative side.

  17. Marco Neves said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 9:18 am

    As for Portugal, there is a lot of bikering regarding some usages, as in English. In fact, I find Language Log quite interesting because its descriptivist approach is quite useful to understand prescriptivist garbage I read in Portuguese newspapers. Just an example: a few months ago a reader of a national magazine has called for the institution of fines to punish those who make grammar mistakes (of the most arbitrary kind).

    In terms of specific questions, just as an example, lots of people in Portugal roll their eyes when people use "porque" or "por que" (meaning "why" or "because") in a different fashion from their own specific option. The extra space is a subject of intense discussion! Also, a few years ago I read an article in a local newspaper bashing the whole country because everyone says "terramoto" when the correct option is, of course, "terremoto" (which no one uses in Portugal). So, the situation is more or less the same as in English.

    In another note, there is a lot of noise in Portugal regarding the implementation of a Treaty between all countries that have Portuguese as the official language that would make Portuguese spelling more or less uniform. As you see, this is quite different from English, where a treaty regarding language would be quite unthinkable…

  18. Uly said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 9:19 am

    I remember reading in somebody's memoirs about a similar policy at his school growing up, except that the last person with the stick went without dinner, they weren't compelled to rat out their friends. Which meant that having the stick made you very popular – all your friends were welcome to speak however they liked, knowing you wouldn't pass it off to them!

    And so it continued until one day, at the end of the day, one of the boys heard the teacher casually say in the local language that he was starving… apparently the teachers held that there were different rules for kids and for adults, what a surprise!

  19. Senhal said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 9:38 am

    Surely the Norwegian language struggle deserves mention here? Wikipedia has a decent article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norwegian_language_struggle . It's still a heated debate (though there haven't been any book burnings in a while), and the question of the compulsory exam in one's secondary form of written Norwegian is an issue in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

    Though things have quietened down, language is still a major issue in Norway, in terms of identity and politics: in my high school class (1997-2000), at least, there were protests about compulsory standard forms in written Bokmål – I was occasionally contrarian enough to intentionally lower my grade by using non-standard forms – and I was not alone. A friend of mine even went to the effort of using an early 20th-century literary Riksmål standard in her so-called 'written oral' exams (exams in which the written standard was not compulsory, as opposed to the so-called 'written written' exams).

    It's of course also a major issue as far as newspapers are concerned – when the left-wing Klassekampen neglected to use radical Bokmål a while back, there were irate protests – and the same happened a few years ago when Aftenposten – traditionally the standard bearer of Riksmål wrote its first – and only – editorial in Nynorsk.

    However – like in most European countries, I believe – the influence of English is the question that unites everyone. A pet peeve of mine is the rise of compound words being divided (see Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norwegian_language#Compound_words for how the error can have humorous results. Pult ost indeed.). Furthermore, academics are now being incentivised, as the bureaucrats say, into publishing in English, which it's (rightly) claimed may have devastating effects on the development of Norwegian academic language.

    Of course, there are debates more akin to the ones in the Anglophone world: for me the sign of our descent into barbarism is the now optional distinction between he and him (han/ham) in Bokmål. In my group of friends I'm probably the only one to make the distinction in speech. O tempora

  20. Dierk said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 9:43 am

    Germans get into heated debates on spelling, especially since the official reform a few years back. Even our more or less revered novelists and poets signed a manifesto against it [disregarding the intentions of Konrad Duden to only provide a stepping stone for a much grander spelling reform in 1902]. Sadly the reform, which mad a lot of sense, was then diluted to make it less sensible in some cases than the original 1902 standard.

    There's also the debate, nay, rage against Anglicisms – the French know about that, too – and Denglish. The latter being some kind of lect creating English-sounding and -looking words like 'handy' for cellular/mobile phone.

    Essentially German Pedants fight against language productivity. Shakespeare, imagining him writing in German now, would have a very hard time, inventing words all the time.

  21. David Eddyshaw said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 10:04 am

    Is this another universal to add to the Greenberg list …?

  22. Dan Lufkin said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 10:40 am

    @Dierk — "Shakespeare writing in German" An educated German friend once astonished me by asserting casually that "Shakespeare was actually German and was forced by the authorities to write in English." Turns out, I was told, that this was actually the official Nazi line in the 30s and taught in schools.

    A factor here is certainly the superb quality of the Schlegel/Tieck translations, but also something about Shakespeare really hits the Germans right where they live and the popularity of Shakespeare in Germany is impressive even today. Here's a link to a fine paper on the subject:

    http://aurora.wells.edu/~klarson/papers/facclub1.htm

    Actually, German is a language in which it's very easy to make up new words. People do it all the time in ordinary conversation. Shakespeare gets extra points for doing it so facilely in English. Of course, he did it before prescriptivism had gained much of a toehold.

  23. michael farris said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 10:45 am

    In Poland, the official public language experts are refreshingly non-prescriptive (and they know their linguistics). If anything, they're less prescriptive than most Polish people (who are always eager to find some way to criticize their fellow citizens).

    While there are a lot of ticklish grammar questions that get people riled up, the experts decline making pronouncements on the moral status of those who use non-standard forms. At most they advise not using some non-standard forms in writing or official public speech.

    They even don't mind English borrowings in principle, though they do criticize the unimaginitve overuse of some English expressions (I'd prefer they do so more strongly).

    Their biggest concern (shared by the public at large) at present in Poland is the perceived coarsening of public speech, both in terms of encroaching slang, increasing obscenity in public and a kind of mush mouth pronunciation that's fashionable among some young people.

    And the young fiancee of a former prime-minister wrote something in her blog about how she doesn't use Polish diacritics in texting (her main form of written communication) and wondered if anyone will use them at all for anything in 20 years. Public reaction (and judgement) was swift and harsh.

  24. Achim said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 10:45 am

    What Dierk said about German is right: Spelling reform and language decay are the topics that pump up blood pressure between Rhein and Oder.

    The decay of Goethe's and Schiller's language is commonly attributed to Anglicisms, (immigrant) youth jargons or sloppy language use of journalists.

    @ Gregory Dyke:

    Pretty much everyone speaks a dialect which differs in several ways from this high german

    The truth is not that simple. In the north, dialect speakers are few (and getting fewer), whereas the more you get to the south the number of dialect speakers rises. That dos not mean that up north people do not have an accent, but it is not a dialect. (Well, if the question whether something is a language or a dialect can ever be resolved: Low German is rather a language in its own right.)

  25. John Cowan said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 10:55 am

    Picky: the hillbilly accent would, of course, be Inland South, the accent actually used by, like, actual mountain williams. But all depends on your choice of career. If you want to be a rapper, learn AAVE; if you want to be an actor, news anchor, or such, learn the deracinated version of California accent that most actors use; if you want to be a politician, cultivate the accent of the place where you wish to be elected — often your native accent, but sometimes not, as in the case of Bush II. (The only president to use a non-local accent that I can think of was Reagan, who was an actor.) There simply is no socially dominant accent for all domains in the U.S.; cultivated Bostonians don't speak anything like cultivated Houstonians, nor do either of them wish to.

    As for Shakespeare, he was of course the very greatest of the German Romantic poets of the second rank.

  26. Daniel B said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 10:56 am

    In Denmark we have had many heated debates about language. Especially spelling has been the subject of these debates. Danish spelling does not mirror the pronouncation so there has been several attempts to make Danish spelling easier. The most heated debate was the the Majonæse wars of 1985. So called because the Danish language authorities had altered the spelling of mayonnaise to majonæse, which is closer to the actual pronouncation of the word. In the end the Danish goverment intervened and both forms became accepted.

    Today it is often the use of SMS-language, the use of transitive and intransitive verbs, borrowing words from English (and how they are gendered), and the use of older expressions with a new meaning that triggers word rage here. Denmark is a small country and therefore Danes often feel that they have to protect their language and culture. I think that this is one of the main reasons why word rage is quite common here.

  27. Theodore said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 10:56 am

    @Matt F/Picky2: Yes, I think in general people in the US are tolerant of regional accents. A notable exception pertains to public figures. I remember a word rage incident when Hillary Clinton was trying to establish herself as a New Yorker for her Senate campaign and the Mary-merry-marry merger came out in public.

    "Ghetto" is a whole different thing and not really regional.

  28. Niels G. said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 11:05 am

    Dansk Sprognævn (The Danish Language Board) is charged with establishing and maintaining official Danish orthography, which government bodies and schools are required by law to follow, and which is almost universally considered canonical. They tend to be rather open in accepting new spellings, to the occasional despair of linguistic reactionaries like yours truly – the only cases where I consciously deviate from official orthography are where my preferred spelling has been demoted as 'obsolete'.

    The Danish dialects are rapidly disappearing, and are now mostly restricted to minor differences in pronounciation and very minor in vocabulary.

    Since the eighties, there's been much debate and confusion over the placement of commas – three different systems have been tried, two of which are currently allowed by official guidelines (although they do strongly recommend that you pick one system and stick to it throughout your text), but I think most civilians* are too confused to work up any righteous indignation on the subject. Probably the most violent debate in modern times was caused by the official adoption by the orthographical reform of 1948 – after a few centuries of discussion – of the letter å to replace the digraph aa.

    These days it's mostly nonsensical management newspeak, malapropisms and (d)anglicisms (or, not uncommonly, all three combined) that tend to get the blood boiling. Fundamental errors of grammar and orthography are fairly widespread, but, unless committed by a professional language-user, in my experience more often provoke a measure of patronizing pity (Danish is difficult) than outrage.

    * At a fairly recent meeting of philologists involved in a new, multivolume translation project, we spent hours discussing comma usage, but that was over which system was preferable, not right or wrong.

  29. Niels G. said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 11:09 am

    (Posting before I saw Daniel B.'s comment above, I'd blanked out the majonæse wars of the late eighties.)

  30. John O'Toole said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 11:29 am

    My anecdotal evidence suggests that word rage is not merely an Anglophone trope but translinguistic behavior (I wouldn't be surprised if it were shown to be common throughout H. sapiens sapiens). In Italian, for instance, in a film by Nanni Moretti (Palombella Rossa?), the filmmaker/protagonist slaps a fatuous woman journalist, if memory serves, for using the word "cip" (cheap) in Italian, obviously an Anglicism. Granted, the film is a comedy, but I think the scene is designed to make viewers say to themselves, Wow, you can only go to that extreme in reel life but, gosh, she deserved it. Moretti is a leftist and, I suppose, given the clear political message of his films, proud of his liberal outlook. In French, if you peruse discussion threads on the language blog Langue sauce piquante, you will encounter plenty of derision, perhaps not vitriol, directed at nonstandard French and the purported mental deficiencies of those poor wretches who use it (of course the group gravitating around that blog is a self-selecting one, supposedly interested in the language and a fortiori le bon usage in French). But go to an on-line newspaper in French, where politically charged topics are debated; linguistic self-righteousness is just one–lesser–shaft in a full quiver of retorts. Ask innocently enough at a dinner party in France why, if "apres que + the subjunctive" is incorrect, do so many native speakers use it; or what is the difference between "je vais sur Paris" (a non-non to purists) and "je vais a Paris" (what we're supposed to say and write when Teacher is watching). Soon the discussion will raise many of the same memes we have in English (plus naturally the "invasion of English words has already undermined our very civilization" argument).

  31. George said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

    Gregory Dyke writes:

    // My claim that 500000 people who say "ça pleut" instead of "il pleut" (for "it's raining") can't be wrong is often defeated by a simple "no, "ça pleut" is wrong [the academy says so]". //

    An even more interesting phenomenon in France is when people don't say that something is wrong but that "ce n'est pas du français". Non-standard usage is flat out banished to a place beyond the borders of the language itself. And there's no point in asking "alors, si ce n'est pas du français, c'est quoi – du grec??!!"

    I love France dearly but, Jeez, they can be infuriating when it comes to language!

  32. David said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

    There is plenty of word rage in Swedish too, though nowadays the use of dialectal pronunciation or words would not be frowned upon as much as during the past century – instead, like many others have said, the influence of English is one cause for complaint, as is the frequent use of discourse particles ("ba', såhär, typ, liksom", cf. English "like") and, like Senhal says for Norwegian, the writing of compound words separately. Domain losses in academia and the corporate sector, considered by linguists to be a much more serious problem for the Swedish language, are not likely to create much rage, with the exception of the gratuitous use of English words in management jargon. One problem is caused by the third person plural pronoun, standardly spelled "de" (subject, cf. "they") and "dem" (object, cf. "them") but by most people nowadays pronounced [dɔm:] in both positions which means that many language users find it difficult to decide which one to use, which of course makes others complain when they're used wrongly. (During the 1970s there was a tendency to spell both forms "dom" but this has now receded in standard text.)

  33. Stephen Jones said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

    and this is a serious question, because I know Europeans (or, especially, British) have terrible class-based hang-ups with language

    I find this statement bizarre. Class-based accents or language varieties seem pretty much a characteristic of the Anglo-sphere. There is no such thing as RP in Spanish for example; an Andalucian aristocrat will speak with an Andalucian accent.

    For word rage you want to go to the Catalan speaking parts of Europe. As language is considered the basis of nationalist self-identification this is ot surprising. There you will come across two kinds of word rage. Firstly the kind we have here with Jacobsen like idiots insisting on a Fabrist purism that would have horrified Pompeu Fabra himself, and secondly the Valencian secession. There is a large political grouping in Valencia called the 'blaveros'. They are basically Francoist nostalgics, but they ferociously deny the incontrovertible fact that Valencian is a dialect of Catalan (leading linguists in Catalonia suggested renaming the language of Catalonia to Valencian in order to appease any feelings of outraged dignity but they weren't having any of it). They invent a spurious origin for Valencian claiming it comes from Mozarabe (it is in fact a dialect of Western Catalan as the area was populated by immigrants from that area after the Reconquest), and react with blind fury when it is suggested that the language they speak is Catalan because they and Catalan-speakers understand each other perfectly. When the American translator of a famous 16th century text from Valencia announced the text was a masterpiece of Catalan literature they pelted him with tomatoes. When he showed them various 16th century texts and challenged them to say which came from Valencia and which from Catalonia they pelted them with tomatoes too.

  34. Stephen Jones said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

    I have of course also forgotten to mention the violent debates about whether Galician should be considered a dialect of Portuguese (the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour).

  35. Picky said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 12:26 pm

    Sorry, Stephen, why was what I said bizarre?

  36. Bernhard said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

    Regarding the *German dative* case, no-one really expects its demise at the moment. As has been remarked often, however, Germans nowadays tend to be satisfied when one constituent of a noun phrase is clearly marked and may abstain from marking the others with the traditional ambiguous morphemes (that's the case in the example linked to above: "jedem" indicates dative case, "Korrespontenten" would only indicate that the NP is not a nominative singular). The more *endangered case* in the spoken language is the genitive (which is dead in the dialects, anyway) — but don't worry: it is very well in written formal German, and even acquires new domains (such as all kinds of "officially sounding" prepositions that traditionally only allowed datives, though few people notice this change and some "conservatives" think that these new genitives must be "preserved", probably similar to "après que + subj").

    For the rest, Dierk and Achim are right: "Spelling" is what may provoke heated debates. However, for many people, "spelling" is an umbrella term, with which they associate all kinds of language change. Saying, "the Duden now allows the dative after 'wegen'" (Duden: German orthographic dictionary that until recently was the official instance in cases of doubt; wegen: German preposition, traditionally used with a genitive [also as a postposition], in informal German now mostly used with a dative).
    In my opinion, the spelling reform is seen as epitomising language decay, because it is the only official change at which one can be angry: it's difficult to bite the "invisible hand".

    So, more to the point: we Germans love to quarrel about each others' grammar, pronunciation and lexicon — even if we call it "spelling" to facilitate polemics. We also love to discriminate against certain dialect groups, just like you Americans (even if our ideas of "dialect" are so different). But this comment is much to long already.

    ([Just between you and me/I:] Should it have been "us Germans"? Googling for "us/we Britons love" [we/US Americans is pointless, evidently], both seem to be possible, but the nominative seems to be preferred for once, "even though" that would be the traditional form?)

  37. Stephen Jones said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

    Sorry, Stephen, why was what I said bizarre?

    Because as I explained in the passage the link between class and regional accent is much more a phenomenon of the Anglosphere than anywhere else in Europe I know of.

  38. peter said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

    Dan Lufkin said (August 21, 2009 @ 10:40 am)

    "An educated German friend once astonished me by asserting casually that "Shakespeare was actually German and was forced by the authorities to write in English."

    Although untrue of Shakespeare, this idea is not as strange as it may seem, given that the mother-tongue of British's longest-serving monarch (Victoria) was German, and that she spoke German with her husband and with visitors.

  39. George said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 12:37 pm

    Re the business about accent and class, one thing that I've noticed in France, however, is that while there isn't any real equivalent of PR, upper and very upper-middle class people from places associated with strong regional accents (like Marseille, say) tend to speak in the sort of 'neutral' accent that doesn't really place most French people anywhere very precise, either geographically or socially.

  40. Bloix said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

    "Regarding Catalan, it really is a variety, but rather of the Latin language dialectal continuum and not of the Spanish language itself."

    Many of the less-recognized Romance languages are in the same boat – Sicilian, for example – and are treated as "dialects" of the language of the dominant classes in the nation-state they happen to share – "dialect" is often a political or social category, not a linguistic one.

  41. Matthew said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 1:06 pm

    My Italian grandmother and her siblings spoke no Italian. They were the children of immigrants from rural Italy (Arpino) who apparently felt that their accent was a disadvantage to any of their children who might return to the homeland; and these were immigrants to rural North Yorkshire. However, they did learn some Italian expletives…

  42. möngke said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

    In Slovenia, although most differences between the 'standardized' variety and colloquial usage seem to be on the level of morphology; the colloquial language does not normally use feminine dual participle forms, people often 'forget' to put the patients of negated sentences into the genitive, and there is much confusion regarding usage of the locative and dative. These features thus seem 'on the way out' from a descriptive perspective, although we should probably be careful here… the same could be said of the dual in general around 50 years ago (my grandmother, for example, rarely uses it), but I know very few people of mine or my parents' generation who don't use it.

    What is surprising is that very few people actually rage about the disappearance of these features. A much more pertinent 'concern' is the perceived plethora of 'balkanisms' in the modern language – namely, words that people feel are borrowings from other South Slavic languages which are allegedly 'polluting' the Slovene language. Cursewords are especially popular in this respect, despite the fact that most of them actually originate from old Slavonic roots.

    But I still think that we are a pretty 'cultured' nation as far as bitching about correct usage is concerned, a formidable feat when the country's 'most renowned linguist' spends most of his time inventing affix-root combinations nobody finds even remotely natural.

  43. Barrett said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 1:16 pm

    What about word aversions in other languages? What German words do Germans hate?

  44. naddy said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 1:55 pm

    Gregory Dyke:
    A major common theme between Germany and France is that, because of there being a body who makes decisions on what is accepted usage, […]
    But there is no such body for German. There is no central authority on accepted usage. The only aspect of German for which there is a state-sponsored standard is the spelling, and that only since 1996, and it only concerns itself with basic rules and core vocabulary.

  45. naddy said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 2:07 pm

    The Institut für Deutsche Sprache is not "charged with establishing and maintaining language standards". It is a research body that documents the German language and provides corpora of written and spoken German. It does not prescribe usage.

  46. Uly said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 2:28 pm

    "An even more interesting phenomenon in France is when people don't say that something is wrong but that "ce n'est pas du français". Non-standard usage is flat out banished to a place beyond the borders of the language itself. And there's no point in asking "alors, si ce n'est pas du français, c'est quoi – du grec??!!""

    Well, we have that problem in English too. You come up with what seems like an interesting or useful neologism, or you happen to use a colloquial word like "ain't" and people go "That's not a word". If ain't ain't a word, I'd very much like to know what it is!

  47. Leon said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

    It's not Europe, but French Canada has an extensive history of society-wide debate surrounding prescriptivism, particularly concerning the lower sociolects of French as spoken in Québec, often referred to as "joual."

    As for European French, non-standard accents and patois words and expressions are regularly the subject of outright ridicule in French media. One of the cuter manifestations of this would be a very popular French comedy skit about "les Bouchonois" and their various (invented) linguistic idiosyncracies, ie, the expression "rentrer broucouille." Here it is:

    http://quietube.com/v.php/http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vH2GdDrJpKg

    I am confused, by the way, as to why anyone would believe that these linguistic phenomena are limited to the Anglo world. It's an acceptable pretext, I suppose, for an interesting discussion, but seriously…

  48. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

    My colleague Gustavo Guajardo wrote an interesting paper regarding the loss of the past subjunctive in Spanish. I recollect that there are indeed fairly severe value judgments associate with using the present subjunctive instead, which many young people apparently do.

  49. Simon Cauchi said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

    I remember being told in a German class that in Germany it is — or it once used to be — quite common to hear people speak of "unser Shakespeare".

  50. The other Mark P said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 4:08 pm

    here's also the debate, nay, rage against Anglicisms – the French know about that, too

    Yet French is absolutely full of Anglicisms, and most educated people use them without batting an eye. I found it quite confusing, because the new words often mean something slightly different in French (parking, jogging, coaching).

    The Academie Francaise can only rage impotently. It can't really enforce its prescriptions, if people don't care. What does work is prescription from the media, teachers. and social pressure. Hence, as noted above, the French do have agreed strict limits on grammar and accent, which are enforced by people in general.

    Yet for new words the advantage of taking from English rather than having to invent new ones out of whole cloth is overwhelming. French TV advertisements happily use whole slogans in English (with token translation underneath). McDonalds has whole menus in English. Web speak neologisms are adapted happily.

  51. Picky said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 4:24 pm

    @Stephen Jones

    Bizarre that you should agree with my bizarrity, but there you go.

  52. Lazar said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 5:09 pm

    @Uly: You can see that kind of thinking in Bill O'Reilly's famous Inside Edition outburst: when the teleprompter presented him with a phrasal verb that he didn't like, he exclaimed, "There's no words on it! There's no words there!"

  53. Bob Moore said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 5:14 pm

    Somewhat off topic, but Mark linked to a post ("Out of the y'all zone") that discusses the question of whether "y'all" can be singular in Southern dialect. My intuition as a former native speaker (for my first 18 years) of such a dialect, is that Southern speakers know, in a competence sort of way, that "y'all" should be reserved for plural number, but as a matter of performance, it is often used in the singular, as if it were simply interchangeable with "you". In my (remembered) dialect, there would be nothing exceptional about saying, "Mark, can y'all come over here?"

    Thus, in practice, "y'all" is unmarked for number; hence the prevalence of "all y'all" to disambiguate. Roy Blunt Jr. is correct that "y'all" is not exclusively singular, but his apparent view that "all y'all" is simply an emphatic form is belied by the frequency with which it is used in circumstances where there is no apparent emphasis intended.

  54. JuanTwoThree said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 5:22 pm

    My Spanish is not good enough to say whether attitudes to shibboleths like Leismo and Loismo constitute "word rage" exactly. Certainly not everybody here in Spain seems to understand or take particularly seriously the pronouncements of the Academy on such matters .

    One thing I've noticed is that these Academies and other bodies seem to vary between being overly pro-active and hardly being reactive at all: either they initiate changes that are not always popular with everybody (I remember hearing that the spelling changes concerning that German B with a little tail for an ss weren't well received) or they rubber-stamp with their approval linguistic changes long after their widespread use ( I'm told that "la mili" for "military service" was accepted by the Spanish Academy only after "la mili" itself was abolished, having been in existence and happily called "la mili" by everybody, for decades). Again this may not cause rage exactly but certainly derision in some circles that I have moved in.

  55. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 5:40 pm

    What words don't the Germans like? My ex was once hilariously cautioned by a well-meaning acquaintance on account of his use of kriegen ("get"). He didn't come out and say he should never use it, he just wanted him to be aware that it wasn't really "proper" German. (Note that kriegen is absolutely ubiquitous in casual German speech regardless of region; his comment would be along the lines of warning an English-learner not to use "bust".)

    This incident sums up for me the general contemporary German attitude towards their language: They all have a strong sense of what's the "right" way to speak (perhaps because so many of them learn Standarddeutsch as something akin to a second language), but they flinch at being perceived as trying to impose their standards on others.

  56. Sven Holmström said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 6:19 pm

    Let me say something about Sweden and Swedish.

    We are much less exciting than our Norwegian neighbours when it comes to language bickering. (although Swedish and Norwegian (and Danish) really are one single language, but that is a different discussion.)

    "But most European countries have one or more governmental institutions charged with establishing and maintaining language standards"

    In Sweden the Swedish Academy (for an international audience more known as the 18 guys deciding the recipient for the Nobel price in literature) used to have this role, but since long they only take a descriptive roll. Their word-list is seen as the de-facto standard of Swedish, but they are certainly (these days) very careful in not being prescriptive.

    But other people, including a lot of teachers are glad to take on their former prescriptive roll. As in US there are a lot of "rules" which have been taught in schools for a century, rules which in some case are based in some kind of constructed logic, rather than natural language. A very typical such hang-up concers if you should use the object or subject form of the pronoun in a comparison: "Bättre än jag" ("Better than I") has been taught as the correct form, although I would claim that natural language actually rather has "Bättre än mig" ("Better than me").

    But, the by far most common target for ragers (including me!) in written language is, as has been mentioned above, the separation of the constituents of a compound. In contrast, this is seen as a real mistake by even the most open minded, but insighful people. It is often considered an anglicism (since keeping the space is the norm in English). In Swedish you tend to make rather large distinction even in pronouncation between two words with or without a separating space. (d

    "Summer break" would in Swedish be "Sommarlov ". But it does seem to me that Swedes are often mistaken with the comparison to English. Swedes tend to think that the difference in treatment in English and Swedish stems from a difference in pronouncation which doesn't exist in English. But I would think that the distinction is much more *important* in Swedish.

    In English as in Swedish we could talk about a "våt sommar" (wet summer), but in Swedish you could also make the construction våtsommar", (not that I have ever heard it, but you could) which would be pronounced with a significantly different melody. These two constructions in spoken Swedish would not be mixed by any native speakers (except perhaps native speakers growing up in Finland, since they tend to use a different sentence melody, but I wouldn't know) and can be used in different ways. Since everyone make use of this distinction in spoken Swedish it just makes sense to keep it also in the written language. (And yes, I am raging. Sorry to do this in this very thread.)

    David said:

    "One problem [in Swedish] is caused by the third person plural pronoun, standardly spelled "de" (subject, cf. "they") and "dem" (object, cf. "them") but by most people nowadays pronounced [dɔm:] in both positions which means that many language users find it difficult to decide which one to use, which of course makes others complain when they're used wrongly. "

    I would say by everyone, except some young first-time news readers on TV or radio trying to be hyper-correct without knowing how to. That distinction hasn't been alive in spoken language for a long, long time. I have never heard *anyone* use it in a casual conversation. Since the distinction doesn't exist in the natural language I really think it should go from the written to, but I certainly wouldn't dare to start! (I think a distinction like that actually exists in some dialiects in the northern part of Sweden. But not in my southern area and likewise not in the area around Stockholm.)

  57. naddy said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 6:23 pm

    Simon Cauchi said:

    I remember being told in a German class that in Germany it is — or it once used to be — quite common to hear people speak of "unser Shakespeare".

    That doesn't sound familiar to this German and a Google search doesn't support it.

  58. naddy said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 6:41 pm

    Daniel von Brighoff said:

    What words don't the Germans like? My ex was once hilariously cautioned by a well-meaning acquaintance on account of his use of kriegen ("get"). He didn't come out and say he should never use it, he just wanted him to be aware that it wasn't really "proper" German.

    It is quite common for native speakers to caution second language learners against using colloquial language. I don't think there is a lack of Americans who will tell you never to use ain't because it isn't "proper" English—and if they just used it themselves and you point this out to them, they'll mumble something about how they shouldn't have. If it isn't part of the formal register, it isn't "proper". No doubt the same holds true for many other languages.

  59. William W said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 6:58 pm

    First, some balance is in order. I don't think most Anglophone speakers, whether in the US or the UK, regularly experience "word rage". It's a fairly common topic among educated or nit-picking speakers, but hardly ranks with TV, sports, or the weather as a conversational topic.

    Second, the apparent thesis of this article "It appears that the strong form of "going nuts" that we've called word rage is mainly an Anglophone phenomenon, with the British as the originators and still the champions" receives negligible support in the article itself. In fact, most of the evidence provided seems to challenge, rather than support, this thesis. Two examples: the comments on the dative among German speakers or the punishment meted out to speakers of dialectic in school settings.

    Third, there is considerable interest among speakers of European languages (as there is, I suspect, among ALL languages) about grammar and usage. In Spanish, leismo, laismo, and loismo are often debated. Among almost all European languages, the role of borrowings and calques from English is a common topic. Is it pretentious to borrow words from English (software, password, making of, success story, etc)? Is it pedantic to insist on using native coinages? Is it hidebound to use already existing native terms? Is failure to approximate an Anglophone accent in borrowings obligatory or deplorable? All of these are common topics.

    In short, are Europeans especially different from Americans in their anxiety about proper language? No. Yet one more exceptionalist myth that needs to cast aside. Before turning to the details of European linguistic territory–dialects, national language academies, multilingualism–first make sure that the thing you're trying to explain in fact exists.

  60. Sven Holmström said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 7:00 pm

    Something should also be said on Turkish, as it is spoken and raged about in Turkey. My own Turkish is really bad and my knowledge of it's history is spotty rather than simply flawed, so I would be happy if a native could fill in.

    As most of you would know there was in the 1920:s a centrally conducted language reform in the country. As I understand it had two main goals:

    1) Substitute the clunky (for Turkish!) adaptation of the Arabic alphabet their were using. I think everyone agrees on that this part was successful. Their choice of a modified Lating alphabet was of course political rather than anything else.

    2) Getting rid of the "polluting" influence of foreign languages, mainly Persian and Arabic. In the revolutionary era of the time (look a bit north and a few years back for larger scale dream along the lines of Marinetti and the boys) they tried to carry this out in a rather radical way. The goal was dubious and the result spotty, but obvious.

    In the early days all (for example) political speeches and newspaper articels were first written in the old (Ottoman) Tukish, but before publication they had to be translated by a specialist to new Turkish. The translators made use of huge, newly composed word lists with "true" or supposedly rural Turkish vocabulary instead of the borrowed verbiage. Of course almost no one could understand the resulting texts. (See also http://www.turkishlanguage.co.uk/jarring.htm)

    But also the vocabulary part of the reform had a lasting impact. Many of the new committee words were in fact established and are still alive today. The national committee still sprout words, which are published in newspapers, but this is done to a much smaller degree than others.

    My impression is that people grown up in Istanbul (and many others) see the core Istanbul dialect as in a very deep sense more correct than more rurals dialects. My very relative Swedish view on dialects seems to be unknown. Non-Istanbul dialects are wrong and a result of low education, many seem to think.

    In addition to this there is, as in the above mentioned Catalan, for many a very deep bond between the national spirit and certain aspects of the language. The most important of these (I think!) is the idea of pure vowel harmony in "uninfluenced" Turkish (to a large extent true). This means for example that in true Turkish a single word would only contain either back or front vowels, never a mix. (Vowel roundedness also plays a role here, but is less important for these matters.)

  61. Stephen Jones said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 7:15 pm

    Certainly not everybody here in Spain seems to understand or take particularly seriously the pronouncements of the Academy on such matters .

    The Spanish Academy accepted 'leíismo' at the end of the seventies or beginning of the eighties.

    Unlike the French Academy it has made a fairly good job of keeping up with the language.

  62. LHC said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 7:24 pm

    Outside of Europe—it seems that in China you get "word lament" and "word joking" more often than rather than "word rage". One common form of lament is: "we/they/you can't speak dialect right* anymore, cause we've/they've/you've been in the school system/far away from home too long…sigh"…(Despite the ongoing standardization projects, many people still have an ideal of functional bi/tri/multi lingualism, with dialect as the language of family/friends/locals). There's also some lamentation about the influence of English and the loss of classical elegance. Lots of jokes have to do with language difference, and many of these are about class, since dialect-flavored accent (a kind of "dialect register" of standard, recognizable but also comprehensible to non-speakers) are often associated with low-classness in movies and sketch comedy. But these lamentations don't seem to erupt into angry prescriptivist lectures about usage, so far as I know–though people will joke about someone's thick accent.

    Maybe prescriptivist "word rage" is a combination of the Anglophone desire to think of language as a static logical system for communicating thought…and the broader Northern European cultural practice of lecturing strangers about following rules.

  63. Simon Cauchi said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 7:31 pm

    @naddy:

    Perhaps my informant was thinking of this book by Theodor Eichhoff:
    Unser Shakespeare: Beiträge zu einer wissenschaftlichen Shakespeare-Kritik (Halle a. S.: M. Niemeyer, 1904)

  64. Amy Stoller said,

    August 21, 2009 @ 9:15 pm

    I have long maintained that the only sensible way to think of Standard American English is as a lingua franca, which would then allow speakers of all American dialects (and accents) to stop wasting time criticizing each others' speech and move on to communicating with each other. I don't think I'll see it happen in my lifetime, but I can dream, can't I?

    I agree with Mark Liberman about language/accent prejudice in the US. It's everywhere, not least among those xenophobes who complain incessantly about how "they" don't want to learn English. This is, of course, utter nonsense. Business is booming in the American ESL and accent "reduction/modification" industries, now more than ever. I live and work in New York City, and it's very difficult to find a bus or a subway car that does not carry ads for these businesses. I have been forced to point out to some of these complainers that their grandparents or great-grandparents immigrated to the US at too advanced an age to acquire English well, if at all, but that I notice they themselves speak English just fine. But somehow these inconsistencies excape, I mean escape, the straphangers who cherish their prejudices more than verifiable facts.

    Please forgive any tpyos in the above. I can spell, but I have trouble seeing in pixels.

  65. Sven said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 1:18 am

    In Croatian/Serbian/Bosnian, the majority of linguistic pet peeves have to do with ethnic and regional shibboleths. In Croatia, especially since the war, you can get in trouble by using Serbian words, phrases, or constructs. To make things worse, many people will mistakenly identify some words as "Serbian" even though they have been in use among Croats for centuries. Within ethnic groups, there is a version of the same game – speaking in a dialect will usually be ridiculed by people who speak a different dialect, especially if you are on their turf. This intraethnic tribalism is usually fairly innocuous, and it is hard to avoid it anyway: regional differences are huge compared to English (especially American English). I am no Henry Higgins, but I can usually locate where a Croatian speaker grew up to within 20-30 miles, and only somewhat less precisely for Bosnian or Serbian speakers.

    (Of course, one of the points of contention is how many languages we are talking about and what they are called. I use slashes for intentional ambiguity. Note that the term "Serbo-Croatian" is offensive to many native speakers and preferred by relatively few.)

    Some of the attempts by quasi-governmental entities to "purify" the language from the neighbors' influences have been a great source of jokes; on the other hand, a surprisingly large fraction has become widely accepted.

  66. Nigel said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 1:22 am

    I lived in Korea and Japan for 20 years, spoke, read, and wrote both languages well albeit below the native speaker level. I paid close attention to linguistic and especially sociolinguistic matters. I can recall no case of word rage in either country. The younger folks (college students) were fairly unanimous in agreeing that their respective languages were too complicated for anyone, including themselves, to speak correctly and agreed that they didn't "speak well" (usually referring to the honorific systems and archaic usages and often to the Chinese based elements of their respective orthographies), but they accepted that as somethign that couldn't be avoided.

  67. dr pepper said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 2:38 am

    Some years back, a post appeared in one of the forums i read that was in a language i'd never seen before. I forget which forum, but it was on Fido, this was before the internet became commonly available.

    The words were clearly in a romance language, and i had studied latin, french and a little spanish, so i started puzzling it out. It seemed that the author was just trying to introduce themself to the online world. After a few sentences, i decided that the language was probably romanche. And when the author began describing where they lived, namely southern Switzerland, i was sure i'd guessed correctly.

    Then i got to where the author bothered to say what language it was. They called it romanzia. Hmm, i remembered reading that the language had dialects that were more like french and more like italian, and the two slightly different names would seem to confirm that. But that would also seem to dispell the other claim i'd read, that this was the modern language closest to latin.

    Anyway, since were discussing intramural stuff, does anyone know if there are disputes among romanche speakers over usage?

  68. Matthew Stuckwisch said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 3:13 am

    Stephen, the Spanish Academy only accepts certain forms of leísmo, and mainly for reasons of high usage through the Spanish-speaking world especially by major authors. For example, using le instead of lo is perfectly acceptable but les for los/las or le for la is not, except under certain circumstances (including the "courtesy le" when it can replace la for instance). If you look up the entry for leísmo in the Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas on the RAE's site they go over the issue in more detail.

    But I do agree they do a pretty good job of keeping up with the language. Now if only the Spanish textbooks I have to teach from would stop anglicizing the language where not even Spanish speakers do.

  69. Janice Huth Byer said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 3:56 am

    A commenter above says actors learn to speak a "deracinated California accent" and "the only president to use a non-local accent… was Reagan, who was an actor."

    Being from California, where Reagan had lived for almost fifty years, prior to moving to the White House, I can vouch for his speaking like a native, which is to say, if you must, a deracinated Californian.

    This is the first anyone's suggested I have no race, though I've heard I have no accent, heh.

  70. Peter Taylor said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 4:26 am

    Ryan, Denzer-King, did you mean "past subjunctive" or "future subjunctive"? I don't know anyone who uses the future subjunctive in speech, although I still see it in writing occasionally (particularly in formal documents); but I don't recall ever hearing a native speaker use the present subjunctive where I expected the imperfect or pluperfect.

  71. Dierk said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 4:45 am

    Let's not forget that humans tend to be experts. We are way more knowledgeable in matters of language [or education or driving a car. Germans are especially adept at driving cars; every single one of us knows he's the best driver in the world – all the others should be incarcerated or hanged for not being able …] than linguists, literary critics, teachers …

    We all know more about language than anyone with a university degree in the study of language for the simple reason that every one of us speaks, reads, and writes. Just like we all have been pupils once, hence are expert in education. I venture to say people all over the world will know exactly whjat is right and what is wrong about language use – regardless of how wrong they are.

    Word rage isn't particularly British or American or German.

  72. JuanTwoThree said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 4:47 am

    To check up on the Spanish Academy's various strictures on the question of leísmo put it in the "dudas" search box here

    http://www.rae.es/rae.html

    I dare say the Spanish Academy does keep up with the language but of course one only notices when it doesn't:

    I was watching "Countdown" (a Scrabble type TV game-show) about 15 years ago when the eight letter word "butanero" came up. The referee with the Academy dictionary wouldn't allow it, although it was and is what everybody calls the man who carries the orange butane gas bottles up to the flats. I see from the web-site that the word has been allowed into Spanish. Meanwhile "butaneros" are an increasingly rare sight.

  73. Dave said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 9:04 am

    Here in the Netherlands, a lot of fuzz is often being made about proper spelling. Dutch isn't the easiest language to learn, I've understood. Every ten years, the Dutch Language Union (Nederlandse Taalunie) revises its 'green booklet' that contains the official spelling rules and correct word lists. Like the tax services, in a continuous effort to simplify things, they somehow succeed in making spelling rules less and less intelligible. Last time an update took place, in 2005, the dissatisfaction was so big that various groups of language professionals (journalists, media, publishers) organized themselves to assemble a competing set of rules, the 'white booklet'. In that sense, I dare say that a true rebellion and lingual schism has arisen.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Booklet#Criticism

  74. Mark Etherton said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 9:08 am

    @ naddy:

    Isn't it reasonable "to caution second language learners against using colloquial language"? It's very easy indeed to get the register or the nuance entirely wrong. I remember from my own experience a) a French friend of my grandmother's who said after smelling a rose in my grandmother's garden "What a lovely pong " and b) a German friend of my father's who had lived in England for more than 40 years, who used to say "bleeding" rather than "bloody" as a colloquial intensifier, which would have put him several social classes away from his actual upper-middle class if it hadn't been clear that he was not a native speaker.

  75. Stephen Jones said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 9:33 am

    and mainly for reasons of high usage through the Spanish-speaking world especially by major authors.

    What other reason but usage can there be for accepting something.

    With regard to the delay in accepting words that have been in the language for at least half a century, as is true of 'la mili' or 'butanero', I think the problem is that the dictionary is not necessarily revised often enough. For a word to get accepted I believe there has to be a meeting of all 26 members of the academy (one for each member of the alphabet so I hope I've got the number right).

    And whereas the Academy is generally accepted as being the authority on usage, I always thought the dictionary most referred to was the Moliner.

  76. peter said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 9:48 am

    To Janice Huth Byer (August 22, 2009 @ 3:56 am):

    Was Richard Nixon's accent also Californian? Was Herbert Hoover's? (if any recordings survive of him speaking).

  77. Dan Lufkin said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 11:40 am

    Swedish had a lot of trouble dealing with the familiar du. Until the 60s one usually addressed a non-intimate by name or title: Har herr Svensson en tändsticka? Do you have a match, Mr. Svensson? You switched to du only after the senior party suggested it. Servants were addressed in the third person as well, with "he" or "she," but this was considered a little over the top.

    In the 60s there was a move to use the second-person plural ni for non-intimates. There were even lapel buttons with Ni to indicate that you wouldn't object to being addressed the new-fangled way. (I recall that German also used to use the familiar second-person plural Ihr as an arm's-length Du.)

    Then in the 70s, everyone in Sweden suddenly went over to du as an all-purpose second person. The senior segment of society was dismayed. A distinguished gentleman I knew, returning to Sweden after 10 years abroad, had to step outside to compose himself when a cashier asked him "How wouldst thou like thy change?" This being Sweden, it was all discussed at great length on the op-ed pages.

    I haven't been back to Sweden for a couple of years now, but I understand that Ni is making a comeback. I'd like to hear from resident Swedes how things are going nowadays. Ni får kalla mig för bror. (You may address me as an intimate.)

  78. Amy Stoller said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 11:59 am

    @ John Cowan: I don't know which California accent you have in mind, since there are several to choose from, but in any case, that is not "the" accent that actors and newscasters are routinely taught. It's not your fault, of course, that you have trod on my toes, but I'm getting awfully tired of seeing this myth repeated around the internet when it is demonstrably untrue. In fact, the teaching of accents to actors and newscasters in the US is no longer routine, and has not been for quite some time; it varies depending on the acting program, school, studio, or course that the budding practitioner attends. A great number of the available training programs do not even touch on safe vocal production, let alone phonetics, diction, accents, or dialects; or if they do, they give them very short shrift. I speak as a someone who has worked in the industry for 35 years, of which I have spent the last 14 as a dialect coach.

  79. Sven Holmström said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

    Dan Lufkin:

    "Swedish had a lot of trouble dealing with the familiar du. Until the 60s one usually addressed a non-intimate by name or title: Har herr Svensson en tändsticka? Do you have a match, Mr. Svensson? You switched to du only after the senior party suggested it. Servants were addressed in the third person as well, with "he" or "she," but this was considered a little over the top."

    I have not lived trough this myself, I am too young. But for my parents, who grew up in the 40:s and 50:s there were some even worse things than what you are mentioning. There existed no word in the language at the time which was proper to for them to use to their grand parents and other relatives except their parents. Instead they had to make constructions like "Skall det has te?" (Close to "Is tea going to be had".) I know for a fact that this led them to often avoid talking to their grand parents. There just wasn't a way to be polite enough. A very strange situation and most probably a transition state from some earlier steady state, although I don't know my linguistic history well enough to know from what.

    But in the early 70:s the situation (so I am told) turned very quickly (probably due to these very obvious problems) to the situation we have had most of the time since then: "du" being the only word, used for everyone except the king and some of his family. Some people would also not use it to the prime minister, but for me it would feel beyond ridiculous to call our prime minister anything else than "du" or Fredrik would I ever meet him. A professor would these days *never* be called 'Professor' in Sweden. Doing that would be like wearing a cod piece in the city square. It is either the first name or "du". (I also cannot bring myself to do this in English and since I'm working in academia, only using English I am probably generally seen as rather impolite. But it's that cod piece feeling… I just can't do it in any language. Impolite is ok.)

    "I haven't been back to Sweden for a couple of years now, but I understand that Ni is making a comeback. I'd like to hear from resident Swedes how things are going nowadays. Ni får kalla mig för bror. (You may address me as an intimate.)"

    I haven't lived in Sweden for four years, but on yearly or so trips there it is definitely true that "Ni" has made inroads again. But in a different guise than before. It used to be that "Ni" was rather something to show distance to people below you. You used it for example for your servant, who would not be able to reciproke with "Ni", instead they would say "Herr Lundström" och use a specific title if he or she had one. The new "Ni", in constrast, is used by young (below 30, I would say) people, mainly in service jobs. They do it as a way of creating distance and professionality to the customer. Many of us dislike this new habit, but it seems like older people have the hardest problem. For many of them the "Ni" is rather rude, much more so than the common "du".

    I have never heard anyone above 35 use "ni" to mean a single person (it is, though, the second person plural pronoun). I would guess that the inspiration for the new use is mainly from German ("Sie") as an answer to the perceived need of being able to distinguish professional from personal address.

    But to answer your question, the old "Ni får kalla mig för bror" (or the more typical "Vi är väl du och bror?" ("Aren't we thou and brother?") has not returned. So far the new use seems to be restriced to commercial use.

  80. Frying Dutchman said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

    @rapanui

    Besides grammar, there are quite a few Dutchmen who get *really* annoyed when someone refers to the Kingdom of the Netherlands as "Holland". We are Dutch and live in THE NETHERLANDS (Nederland).

  81. Achim said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

    @ Sven Holmström:

    But, the by far most common target for ragers (including me!) in written language is, as has been mentioned above, the separation of the constituents of a compound.

    Tack detsamma. One result of our (German, that is) spelling reform which has been revised so often meanwhile is that many people either no longer care or are lost. German is strong in compounds which in general are written in one word, like in Swedish. Hyphenation may be used to segment long compounds as a way to facilitate reading. But nowadays you see separated compounds everywhere. At least for me that makes reading more difficult as I start out with a different prosodic contour, thus disturbing the lexical lookup procedures. If the trend persists, I will probably adapt (well, I have no problem reading compounds in English), but only reluctantly.

    @Janice Huth Byer:

    a deracinated Californian.

    This is the first anyone's suggested I have no race, though I've heard I have no accent, heh.

    I have read deracinated as "uprooted". I have inferred that from French racine = "root".

  82. Peter Taylor said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 3:24 pm

    Stephen Jones, the Spanish alphabet has been reduced in size, but it still has 27 letters (ñ being the "extra one"). My copy of the "Diccionario esencial de la lengua española" lists 44 members of the RAE. Incidentally, it also lists "butanero" as one of the 54.000 essential current words, and gives two meanings: JuanTwoThree's and "a ship intended for the transport of butane".

  83. mollymooly said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 3:31 pm

    The Bergamasco bastù story is repeated for other dialects and languages — see the Wikipedia article on Welsh Not.

  84. Trond Engen said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 6:38 pm

    I think the discussion above shows that word rage is live and well in Europe, but that the rage is often directed at the official or demi-official institutions that administer the ortography. All evil is due to their complacency and lack of spine to uphold the standards of days bygone. Achim's blaming the latest German spelling reform for the spread of decomposed compounds, regardless of the timeline and the situation in languages untouched by said spelling reform, is a fine example. And the more arcane and less related to actual language as ever spoken a feature is, the more rage against or lament over its removal from the written standard. My countryman Senhal's sentiments for 'ham' fits here. (Senhal: Your friends aren't changing the language. No Norwegian ever said 'ham' outside Bible recitations or those theatre productions we used to laugh at. It's ridiculously bookish.)

    So what's the result of this? Hypercorrection as a vigourous force in language change is one. My standard example is another pronoun, one that's actually changed in Standard Eastern Norwegian in the last couple of decades: Third person plural 'de'/'dem'. In the colloquial language these merged in the object form 'dem' "them" long ago. Since the distinction was upheld in written language and was taught, the merger became a class marker, and since it was a class marker it never entered the standards. Unsecure speakers and Hyacinths overcompensated and used 'de' "they" all around. For younger speakers this is now the only form and the result of the switch is quickly entering the newspapers with the new generation. But since using 'de' in the object slot is erring to the socially safe side it doesn't prompt the rage that used to come from using 'han' there, let alone 'dem' as a subject.

  85. Stephen Jones said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 7:14 pm

    Stephen Jones, the Spanish alphabet has been reduced in size, but it still has 27 letters (ñ being the "extra one"). My copy of the "Diccionario esencial de la lengua española" lists 44 members of the RAE.

    I wasn't sure of the status of 'w', 'k' and 'll'. Each person is given a chair corresponding to a letter of the alphabet, but not all the letters of the alphabet are represented and there are separate chairs for capital and small letters. Here is the list of chairs, courtesy of Spanish Wikipedia:

    A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V X Z
    a b c d e f g h i j k l m n ñ o p q r s t u

  86. Stephen Jones said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

    Apparently the capital letters were the original ones and date back to 1713. The small letters were added in 1847, with the exeption of 'm', 'n', 'ñ' & 'o' which were added in 1982.

  87. Stephen Jones said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 7:19 pm

    I missed out 'p', 'q', 'r', 's', 't' and 'u', which were added between 1987 and 1997.

  88. dr pepper said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

    @Trond Engen

    Hyacinth?

  89. Trond Engen said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 7:52 pm

    @dr pepper

    From Hyacinth Bucket, pronounced "Bouquet", doing "her best to give the impression that she is of high social standing, while proving at all times that she is of working-class origins and desperate to escape them", as the Wikipedia article puts it. In Norwegian I've used the character Flettfrid Andrésen.

  90. nascardaughter said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 11:14 pm

    I remember a word rage incident when Hillary Clinton was trying to establish herself as a New Yorker for her Senate campaign and the Mary-merry-marry merger came out in public.

    I don't recall this — would be interested in learning more about it, but my google-fu is apparently not strong enough. My impression has always been that her Inland North accent was pretty helpful when it came to making inroads with people upstate.

  91. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    August 22, 2009 @ 11:26 pm

    Yeah, I was going to say something similar — as a senator, she represented the whole state of New York, did she not? Her accent isn't that different from people in Buffalo or Rochester.

  92. dr pepper said,

    August 23, 2009 @ 3:02 am

    Oh yes, i know who Hyancinth Bucket is. It just wasn't clear from the context who you meant.

  93. dr pepper said,

    August 23, 2009 @ 3:05 am

    "Mary-merry-marry merger"

    Ok, i remember a whiny tv character who pronounced "Mary" as "May-airy" sometimes. But i've never met anyone in real life who pronounces those three words differently.

  94. Stephen Jones said,

    August 23, 2009 @ 4:50 am

    But i've never met anyone in real life who pronounces those three words differently.Three distinct vowel sounds in British English. I've never met anybody who pronounces them the same.

  95. MattF said,

    August 23, 2009 @ 8:05 am

    It's common knowledge in the US that pronouncing the vowels in "Mary-merry-marry" the same way is a marker for a midwestern accent. Clinton is a native of Illinois, which is about as midwestern as you can get.

  96. Alan Gunn said,

    August 23, 2009 @ 9:16 am

    "It's common knowledge in the US that pronouncing the vowels in "Mary-merry-marry" the same way is a marker for a midwestern accent. Clinton is a native of Illinois, which is about as midwestern as you can get."

    People in upstate NY, where I mostly grew up, also pronounce all three of these the same way. This may be a generational thing; I can remember my mother telling me, back in the 50's, that they should be pronounced differently. Nobody my age does, though.

  97. Dan Lufkin said,

    August 23, 2009 @ 1:53 pm

    Can anyone refresh my memory about a late-1930s network radio program where a phonetician did a Prof. Higgins act on audience members? The Mary/merry/marry test was the first one he used; he then had a series of other shibboleths that narrowed the accent down. It played for at least a couple of years.

    Pre-adolescent exposure to that program probably contributed to giving me an enduring interest in language.

    Too late to do anything about it now.

  98. Amy Stoller said,

    August 23, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

    @ Dr. Pepper:

    "But i've never met anyone in real life who pronounces [Mary, merry, and marry] differently."

    Come to the New York metropolitan area, or indeed, almost anywhere in New England. You'll meet a lot of us. We also don't rhyme "hurry" with "furry." And we pronounce "horrid" with two distinct syllables, the first syllable rhyming with "ca(r)."

  99. Matthew Stuckwisch said,

    August 23, 2009 @ 9:39 pm

    Peter Taylor, the Spanish alphabet has NOT been reduced to 27 letters. From the Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas (published by the RAE and under the entry "abecedario"):

    El abecedario español está hoy formado por las veintinueve letras siguientes: a, b, c, ch, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, ll, m, n, ñ, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z
    Translation: The Spanish alphabet is current made up of the following twenty-nine letters: a, b, c, ch, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, ll, m, n, ñ, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z

    Don't worry though, it's an extremely common misconception that the letters ch and ll were removed, when in reality the only change that was done was to have the sort order in Spanish go by characters and not letters. In fact the Spanish textbook I'm forced to use makes a special point of indicating that those two letters (as well as rr which has never been considered a letter by the Academy) are not letters of the Spanish alphabet.

  100. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    August 23, 2009 @ 9:54 pm

    Thanks, Amy. I wondered where that pronunciation of horrible came from — obviously, it's related to horrid.

    My seventh-grade English teacher was extremely emphatic that her students relearn their pronunciation of "horrible" (we pronounced the first syllable as though it rhymed with the middle syllable of "adorable").
    She insisted the o should sound the same as the a in "art." We also thought she was being silly because she wanted us to pronounce a written o as though it was an a.

    She also insisted on a pronunciation of "Tuesday" that emphasized the u. Even though we could say "dues," we had to pronounce "Tuesday" as "tyouzday."

    I'm glad she didn't differentiate Mary, merry and marry, because I grew up in upstate New York, and I pronounce them all the same way.

  101. Achim said,

    August 24, 2009 @ 3:32 am

    @ Trond Engen:

    All evil is due to their complacency and lack of spine to uphold the standards of days bygone. Achim's blaming the latest German spelling reform for the spread of decomposed compounds, regardless of the timeline and the situation in languages untouched by said spelling reform, is a fine example.

    Reconsidering this, I think there two strands of development that interfere with each other:

    1. Our spelling reform with its constant cycle of revisions plus the admission of variants in many cases have left some people behind to believe that you do not have to care. I observe an increase of compounds spelt separately mainly among the younger generation, but not exclusively.

    BTW, the spelling reform is a fine example to illustrate the German phrase "well meant is the opposite of well done" (gut gemeint ist das Gegenteil von gut). The reform was started with the intention to facilitate spelling, but as it took more than ten years to settle down to a relatively stable system (where much debate was "resolved" by allowing variants), the result is several cohorts of school children who had to relearn their spelling several times during their school years, and a lot of adults who have settled down, like me, to their private orthography which is not necessarily conformant to the rules.
    2. A lot of people have never cared about spelling; with the advent of the PC and the internet, these people write more than before and they publish what they write. Hence the observed increase in creative spelling.

  102. BenHemmens said,

    August 24, 2009 @ 7:22 am

    down here in the southeast of austria:

    a) politer ex-yugoslavs refer to their language(s) as "BKS" for short. and a linguist told me that slovenian has 27 isoglosses in apopulation of 2 million, whereas russian has a grand total of 3 isoglosses from the arctic to the black sea. so it's no illusion that ex-yugoslavs can locate someone highly accurately.

    b) we have great fun with the "neue deutsche rechtschreibung" which is now in force following a protracted struggle.

    c) another hot issue is gender-neutral German, which requires some odd (to traditionalists) contortions. many nouns for which the male -er ending would have been used to include males and females are now written, for example, BürgerIn (that's right, with an uppercase I in the middle of the word) instead of Bürger (for citizen). This leads to cosntructions such as, I kid you not, BürgerInnenmeisterInstellvertreterIn as the fully neutral form of "deputy mayor". Even our current green and lesbian deputy mayor has, however opted for the easier version of "Vizebürgermeisterin".

    d) Austrians are great at importing English words on the fly, usually using them for things that they don't mean in English. People regularly get peeved about that in the letters pages – completely missing the point that these imports usually involve more native creativity than slavish adoption of foreign vocabulary. "Fair" for example is used to mean "kind and considerate", but has no connotation of justice.

    e) the more tenuous a grip ordinary people in any particular region have on "proper" language the more they fight about it. there's formal standard Austrian usage, and then there's German German, and how people actually talk aroud here is different from both.

  103. Ken Brown said,

    August 24, 2009 @ 12:07 pm

    Stephen Jones said: "But i've never met anyone in real life who pronounces those three words differently.Three distinct vowel sounds in British English. I've never met anybody who pronounces them the same."

    Assuming you meant:

    "Dr Pepper said: 'But i've never met anyone in real life who pronounces those three words differently.'
    Three distinct vowel sounds in British English. I've never met anybody who pronounces them the same."

    Yep. Three very different vowels in the south of England.

    For the benefit of Illinoisians (is that a word? :-))

    "Marry" rhymes with "Barry", "carry", "Gary", "Harry", "Larry", "parry" and "tarry".

    "Merry" rhymes with "berry", "Derry", "ferry", "Jerry", "perry", and "very".

    "Mary" rhymes with "Carey", "dairy", "fairy", and "hairy".

    Do people from Chicago really read books about Hairy Potter the boy wizard?

  104. michael farris said,

    August 24, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

    Ken Brown,

    In my dialect (lowest common denominator SAE) marry, merry and Mary (and therefore all the words on your lists) rhyme, and hairy and Harry are indeed homophonous.

    What I remember from a linguistics class some years ago, it's actually not common to find all three distinguished in the US.
    Many speakers distinguish one from the other two but just which one (and how) varies.

  105. Laura Blumenthal said,

    August 24, 2009 @ 12:53 pm

    I'm from Philadelphia, PA, and I pronounce marry/merry/Mary differently, too, just like Ken Brown. But here in Vancouver, BC (Canada), they are pronounced exactly the same. This rarely leads to misunderstandings, except when someone tell me their name is Carrie/Kerry/Carey, and I have to ask them how to spell it, because I know they pronounce them all the same, where as I wouldn't, but they're usually used to being asked.

    I didn't know there were so many variants in North America where they're pronounced the same until I moved to Utah, where I had to scrap an exercise I'd made for my ESL students to distinguish these sounds. I can't use it here either.

  106. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    August 24, 2009 @ 3:47 pm

    Yes, I'm pretty sure the majority of regions in North America have the mary/marry/merry merger.

  107. John Cowan said,

    August 24, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

    Amy Stoller: I'm glad to hear that people in the industry are no longer taught to approximate a single accent, since I hold that all anglophones should speak with their native accents. Nevertheless, it seems plain that a great many people working now were so taught.

    If, on the other hand, basic vocal safety is not being taught either, that is criminal neglect.

  108. JuanTwoThree said,

    August 24, 2009 @ 6:23 pm

    Where shall we marry, Mary Parry?

    On the dairy ferry which carries hairy Carey Perry to fairy Kerry and merry Derry to bury Barry, Harry Berry?

  109. dr pepper said,

    August 25, 2009 @ 12:24 am

    @ Ken Brown

    Yep. Three very different vowels in the south of England.

    For the benefit of Illinoisians (is that a word? :-))

    I'm a californian myself.

    "Marry" rhymes with "Barry", "carry", "Gary", "Harry", "Larry", "parry" and "tarry".

    "Merry" rhymes with "berry", "Derry", "ferry", "Jerry", "perry", and "very".

    "Mary" rhymes with "Carey", "dairy", "fairy", and "hairy".

    Again, everyone i've ever heard in real life say those words pronounces the last two syllables the same for all of them.

  110. Jongseong Park said,

    August 25, 2009 @ 9:58 am

    In response to Nigel, who could recall no cases of word rage in either Korea or Japan, I must report that prescriptivism is alive and well in Korea, in many shades and forms. I must admit that I'm a bit of a prescriptivist myself in many ways, though I realize this won't endear me to most people here.

    On very rare occasions, some members of the older generation complain that the younger folks don't properly distinguish vowel lengths. My generation has lost vowel length distinctions completely.

    More common are the calls for the purification of the language, meaning that we should weed out foreign (principally Japanese and English) words and constructions. Efforts to drive out Japanese words have been quite successful; I'm unfamiliar with many of the Japanese words used by the older generation. These can go to extremes; some people claim that Japanese-style sino-Korean words such as 결혼(結婚, 'marriage') and 가족(家族, 'family') should be replaced with more 'native' equivalents like 혼인(婚姻) and 식구(食口) respectively. I wouldn't say anyone would consider the supposed Japanese-style sino-Korean words 'wrong', though.

    There are worries about grammatical construction resulting from literal translation from Japanese or English, such as the overuse of the particle 의(eui) corresponding to the Japanese particle の(no) or the increasing use of the artificial pronoun 그녀(geunyeo) that originally was introduced to translate 'she'. Interestingly, one often hears people decrying the passive voice in Korean as un-Korean.

    Recently, I've heard an increasing number of complaints about the misuse of honorifics. People in the service industry in particular will use honorific forms for inanimate objects, e.g. 이 메뉴는 할인이 안 되세요(This menu item doesn't get a discount) with the honorific 되세요 instead of the usual 돼요. This drives me crazy as well, as it strikes me as misguided hypercorrection that complicates an already incomprehensible system, although it just might be a sign that the honorific system is breaking down.

    The language police in Korea probably have enough trouble dealing with basic mistakes people make like spelling errors and the confusion of similar-sounding word pairs to worry too much about these finer points in grammar, though.

  111. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    August 25, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

    @naddy

    It is quite common for native speakers to caution second language learners against using colloquial language. I don't think there is a lack of Americans who will tell you never to use ain't because it isn't "proper" English

    Are you seriously putting ain't–the shibboleth par excellence of educated American speech–on a par with a common colloquialism like kriegen? It's so widespread and unobjectionable in spoken German that I really strained to find an equivalent which would give English-speakers an idea of how ludicrous this warning was.

    You're quite right, these warnings aren't uncommon crosslinguistically, it's just a question of context and degree. I wouldn't let a friend use "screwed" or even "screwy" in an academic paper, but I'm not about to warn him that this "isn't proper English" when we're just chatting.

  112. Joshua said,

    August 26, 2009 @ 12:28 am

    To Peter {August 22, 2009 @ 9:48 am):

    Herbert Hoover lived until 1964, and so there is no difficulty finding audio recordings of his speech (try YouTube, for example). I don't know how to assess his accent, although I would assume it would be more midwestern than Californian given that he was born and spent his young childhood in Iowa.

  113. John Burgess said,

    August 26, 2009 @ 12:33 am

    I learned to speak in Detroit but learned grammar in western Mass. along with 'proper usage and pronunciation'. I definitely use three different vowel sounds for the Mary/merry/marry triad as Laura Blumenthal.

    Western Mass. avoids the 'Haavaad' extremisms, but still has issues with 'qwata dolla', 'pincils' for writing, and 'filim' in cameras. Still has problems, that is, until the nuns beat them out of you!

  114. Aviatrix said,

    August 27, 2009 @ 5:52 am

    My late father was from England and pronounced marry/Mary/merry all distinctly. I could hear the difference perfectly well, but never learned to make the different sounds myself. He also distinguished between Dawn and Don, and found it hilarious that Candians would pronounce the man's and woman's names the same way.

  115. Aaron Davies said,

    August 27, 2009 @ 10:55 am

    fwiw, i also merge all the examples in ken's post as -ɛri. otoh, i also merge my own name and "erin", which confuses people to no end when i'm on the phone.

  116. Florence Artur said,

    August 31, 2009 @ 10:40 am

    There is a prescriptivist tendency in my family, which I started to view with some suspicion when I was in my twenties, and some constructions that I had been using all my life suddenly were banned because of something someone read in a newspaper article :-) When I discovered LL, I was happy to find out that my suspicions were not unfounded, and also a bit surprised that those subjects seem to trigger heated discussions in the anglophone world. I don't remember so much passion in French newspapers. Probably that's because, as noted in other comments, as a result of 2 centuries of linguistic centralism, everyone now pretty much agrees on what is and isn't "du français", even if some limited regional excentricities are tolerated.

    But there is a very strong social aspect to this also: not everyone has access to this national standard language, which is a prerequisite for, among other things, getting a decent job. I am not very knowledgeable about this, but I remember reading an article in Le Monde several years ago, about how people in the suburban ghettoes are developing a separate language, which contributes to setting them apart from the rest of the population.

  117. scott said,

    August 20, 2012 @ 2:59 am

    I'm a bit late to the discusion and I doubt anyone will read this, but it's actually the fate of the genetive case that is at issue.

    "Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod" is a funny title, because it it is an example of the use of the dative where the genetive would have been common. It translates roughly to "The dative is the death of the genetive." It *should* read: "Der Dativ ist der Tod des Genitivs."

    I'm not sure about the proper linguistic description, since I'm merely an avid fan of languages, but they seem to be avoiding the genetive case by using dative noun + possessive pronoun, so that you end up with amusing examples, such as "Gib mir dem Vater seine Turnschuhe" instead of "Gib mir Vaters Turnschuhe."

  118. scott said,

    August 20, 2012 @ 3:02 am

    genitive… with an "i". I guess there's no editing or deleting comments here?

  119. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    August 23, 2012 @ 4:40 pm

    @scott: I found a couple references in the literature to the "his-genitive", though this seems to refer both to a particular usage characteristic of Early Modern English (e.g. Sejanus his Fall) and to the general type of construction you mention, which is common to several Germanic languages. Other terms I found in the specialist literature include "separated genitive" and "possessor doubling construction".

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