Thursday, December 16, 2004

Blame the linguists!

Linguist Veda Charrow has a column in the Washington Times that tries to break down America's deteriorating grammatical skills.
Earlier in the 20th century, professional writers and educated speakers could be expected to make few, if any, grammatical errors. Newspapers and magazines were edited not only for content and length, but for grammatical correctness. This is no longer the case. Newspapers, magazines, newscasts and, of course, the Internet are rife with errors like the ones above.
She thinks linguists, and their training to not make value judgments, may be to blame. She discusses Noam Chomsky's theory of transformational-generative grammar (of which I know nothing about but sounds terribly interesting).

Her theory: People tried to incorporate the theory into their grammar lessons. Kids didn't really get it and therefore never really got a firm hold of grammar. And now those kids are the adults teaching students now. Trickle-down ignorance.

She ends with a call to action:
It's time again to formally teach traditional grammar in the schools. (And, yes, I know I split an infinitive, but English doesn't have true infinitives, so it's OK.)


At 6:16 PM, December 16, 2004, Blogger Bill said...

For a stunning example of not making value judgments, check out the parenthetical note in the Webster's New World entry on "gantlet."

At 8:53 PM, December 16, 2004, Blogger Nicole said...

My Webster's New World doesn't have a usage note; anyone else have this?

I did find this "word history" from American Heritage: The spelling gauntlet is acceptable for both gauntlet meaning “glove” or “challenge” and gauntlet meaning “a form of punishment in which lines of men beat a person forced to run between them” but this has not always been the case. The story of the gauntlet used in to throw down the gauntlet is linguistically unexciting: it comes from the Old French word gantelet, a diminutive of gant, “glove.” From the time of its appearance in Middle English (in a work composed in 1449), the word has been spelled with an au as well as an a, still a possible spelling. But the gauntlet used in to run the gauntlet is an alteration of the earlier English form gantlope, which came from the Swedish word gatlopp, a compound of gata, “lane,” and lopp, “course.” The earliest recorded form of the English word, found in 1646, is gantelope, showing that alteration of the Swedish word had already occurred. The English word was then influenced by the spelling of the word gauntlet, “glove,” and in 1676 we find the first recorded instance of the spelling gauntlet for this word, although gantelope is found as late as 1836. From then on spellings with au and a are both found, but the au seems to have won out.

At 8:55 PM, December 16, 2004, Blogger Nicole said...

For the record, here is AP's entry:

gamut, gantlet, gauntlet A gamut is a scale of notes or any complete range or extent.

A gantlet is a flogging ordeal, literally or figuratively.

A gauntlet is a glove. To throw down the gauntlet means to issue a challenge. To take up the gauntlet means to accept a challenge.

At 12:51 PM, December 20, 2004, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

That entry from Webster's: b) a series of troubles or difficulties (in these senses, now spelled equally gauntlet).


Showing again that dictionaries are descriptive and stylebooks are prescriptive, thus a need for both.


Post a Comment

<< Home