word order (was Re: Random DWJ discovery of the day)

deborah deborah.dwj at suberic.net
Wed Apr 6 09:15:36 EDT 2005

On Wed, 6 Apr 2005, Belben, Philip (Energy Wholesale) wrote:
|ther problem with Colin's view is that the language generated by
|prescriptive grammar _is_ used.  People do, in some circumstances, speak
|that way.  They are English-speakers, and they are understood by other
|English-speakers when they do.  A child exposed to this would pick up
|these modes of speech, as someone (Robyn?) pointed out.  So the
|assertion that these are necessarily not learnt naturally but only
|taught is not well founded; and even if it were, the assertion that the
|taught forms are not part of English would still be a very strange one.

*raises hand*

Native speaker of Standard English here.  My father -- who, though I
love him dearly, is inclined to the pedantic asshattery -- brought us up
speaking Standard English as our native language.  It drives my
aforementioned linguist friend mad; occasionally he will ask us "does
this phrasing work as English?", and I'll insist it doesn't, and he will
insist that I should not be using prescriptive grammar rules but rather
my notion of the sounds of natural speech, and I will explain that
because of the way I was brought up, prescriptive grammar rules *are*
the sound of natural speech to me.  When people say "lay" for "lie" I
wince -- not because they're breaking a rule and I care, but because it
rings false.  (I understand that's an of issue vocabulary and not
sentence structure, but it's the first example that comes to mind.  Bear
with me.)  I don't end idomatic sentences with prepositions in my casual
spoken English.  Naturally.  Point for Dad, I suppose, if you think
that's a good thing instead of a set of prescriptive rules which has
led co-workers to tell me that my e-mails and conversations can be a
pleasure to hear but difficult to understand.

Clearly there are exceptions.  For example, prescriptive grammar rules
would not allow the run on sentence above which feels so natural to me.
And I am multi-dialectical, or whatever the correct term is.  Certainly
(and mostly unconsciously) the grammatical structure use when composing
e-mails or speaking with co-workers or library patrons is substantially
different from the grammatical structure I use when I'm complaining to
my friends about the recent badness of CSI.  Even then, my root dialect
is clearly an idiomatic variation of Standard English.  Even my other
dialects are touched with my Standard English flavor (and I admit I am
cheating in the following generated example by using obscure vocabulary
in order to overemphasize another variation of English with which I am

  "God, the kerfuffle over OTPs last week left me thoroughly grr-ified;
  I get So.  Damned.  Annoyed. when people focus on the suckage instead
  of the coolness factor.  It's silly.  Or possibly ridiculous.  *growls

There were green alligators, and long necked geese
Humpty-backed camels and chimpanzees
Cats and rats and elephants, but Lord, I'm so forlorn
I just can't find no unicorn.		-- Shel Silverstein

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