Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012 - , 8 comments

My Favorite Thing about Linguistics Class

In order to graduate from college, I had to take one more English class in summer session. Even though I found my professor a hypocritical bore, I really appreciate many of the things that I learned in that class.

Warning Rant Ahead! But, to be fair, I haven't had a rant in a long time. What prompted this was a comment on blog post I read a few days ago where the author was ranting about people who use words that aren't real.  The word (or non-word) in question was "irregardless."

Let's forget that this collection of letters is acknowledged by Merriam-Webster (albeit "nonstandard" usage).  English is a living language. It is constantly growing and adapting. Pronunciation shifts over time. Shakespeare invented tons of words, yes invented. Do people object and complain about him? No, they honor him for his creativity. Oh, they may complain that they don't understand Shakespeare, but that's because the English language has developed and changed.

Nevertheless, here is a small sample of the words that Shakespeare created that you might find familiar: accommodation, bloody, critic, hurry, obscene, and sanctimonious. (That last one seems quite apt, wouldn't you say?) And Shakespeare was not alone in his creation of new words. Charles Dickens did it too (among many other authors and speakers), and don't even get me started on poets. ;)  We, as a society, invent new words or usage all the time. Ten years ago, Who would have thought that anyone except birds would "tweet?"

Before we get all judgmental because someone said, "irregardless" or "ain't" because we think that the speaker is somehow deficient in their education, we should reconsider how language works.  It lives and breathes and adapts to the conditions of the speaker. In other words, if a new word or grammatical usage appears, it is because there was something missing or deficient. A great example is the contraction "y'all" for second person plural. "Standard" English really doesn't have a second person plural and languages need it, Ta-Da!

And the same thing applies to pronunciation. We can't feel that our pronunciation is somehow superior to another person's because it is in a dictionary or something. The way that the first compilers did it was to put the most common pronunciation not the most correct.  Read the introduction of a dictionary. You may be astounded by what you find there.

Having said all that, I must admit that I did let my best friend know that the most common pronunciation of the word "moot" was not "mute," as in something being "a moot point." I really don't care. I already know she's brilliant, but I didn't want people judging her in business meetings.

My favorite thing about my linguistics class is that it made me aware of a whole form of prejudice that I carried without ever realizing it. I learned that just because someone had a certain accent or invented a word, it didn't mean that they were dumb. After all, they're in some good company.


Have a pleasant day! :)


Yeah, what you say...I always chuckle over the sanctimoniousness of certain purists. I think the only languages that haven't changed over time are Klingon and Elvish.

Ah, yes. Your rant 'twas brillig.
As in uffish thought I sit,
Oh Jabbwerwock! Callooh Callay!

LOL Yes, that's probably true. :)

And though poetry has never been my bag, the Jabberwocky was always been one of my favorite poems. :)

I guess.

I think irregardless fell into the lexicon because irrespective sounded pretentious and regardless sounded incomplete. Either that, or saying irregardless made people think they sounded smarter than they are. word snobbery is showing. I should probably tuck that back in.

I'm sure that your analysis is correct. It was just the smug superiority of the folks that raised my ire. One of them was claiming that her complaint was valid because she was an English teacher. I was compelled to leave a link to the Merriam-Webster entry indicating that it was a word the comments, which was the court of last resort for any of my English teachers. lol

P.S. "Not a word you should use because it makes you sound like an idiot," I could live with though, personally, I'd probably want to say it in a nicer way. Just sayin'.

Yeah, I hear you. I'm not a big fan of sanctimonious.

My mom always told me to look it up when I'd ask what a word meant or wondered how to spell it. Spelling words correctly is very important to me. So if I wondered about the word irregardless, and I looked it up, I'd find it in the dictionary.

I still think it is a word to be avoided, but it's in the dictionary. So if my niece asked me about it, I'd tell her to look it up. In which case, she would find it. Further, she would have the choice to use it or not, with full knowledge of how it could be used.

I guess that's how a word truly becomes ingrained in the lexicon.


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