Rant – Professors are feeling hopeless. Good.

Sep 9, 2014 by

Bruce D. Price – Lauren Squires, a sociolinguistic professor at OSU, is distressed by the success of the “Word Crimes” parody from Weird Al Yankovic.

Professor Squires tut-tutted, “Many linguists are shaking their heads and feeling a little hopeless about what the public enthusiasm about it represents: a society where largely trivial, largely arbitrary standards of linguistic correctness are heavily privileged, and people feel justified in attacking those who don’t do things the ‘correct’ way.”

In his highly entertaining video, Weird Al does not hesitate to insult people who use bad grammar.

The professor thinks that Weird Al’s attitude “raises deep and long-standing questions of social equity regarding class, education, race, age, ethnicity, gender, and how these relate to languages, dialects, and social registers….”

The professor is all aghast at Weird Al’s approval of grammatical absolutes. It’s almost as bad as being white. Clearly he’s going to hell for two reasons now.

I’d say the professor is running a scam. Every major language in the world has its high, middle and low variations, its slang, its regional variations. That’s a fact of life. Even semi-educated users of the language know about these subtleties. Many people shift their language depending on the people they are with.

But children do not know these subtleties, nor do they need to at the start. Here’s what they need: to learn Standard English as quickly as possible. Basically, Standard is what the media, publishers, and academia do; it’s what the majority of upper and middle-class people do. Teaching anything else is not fair to the child.

Suppose you went to Russia to learn Russian. The teacher tells you there are three ways you can express a thought. All are acceptable. Your reaction, if you are smart, would be: “I’m just learning the language. I don’t need to learn second and third choices. Tell me the one that will work in the majority of situations.”

Isn’t that obviously the more efficient approach? But of course some professors don’t like the obvious. They like sophistries, especially if they sandbag anything Standard or mainstream.

They want to use political correctness to justify claiming that all linguistic choices are equally appropriate. Educated adults knows this is nonsense.

But a kid in elementary school does not know. If you tell the child there are no rules and anything goes, then you are crippling that person. You are stigmatizing that person.

It’s as reckless as telling children they can drink as much soda as they want. All amounts are equally correct!

The professor is myopic. In real life, standards are NOT largely trivial. They are hugely important to anyone who wants to move comfortably inside a language, especially someone just starting out.

The public schools have stopped telling kids what’s considered the correct way. That leaves everyone adrift. Weird Al is defending common sense. If sociolinguistic professors are feeling hopeless, that’s a good development. Perhaps they’ll remain quiet for a while, having done enough damage.

There’s no philosophical justification for the relativity they promote. This whole descriptive versus prescriptive debate is just a cheap piece of bad logic. When anthropologists study primitive cultures, they’re supposed to observe and describe. They’re not supposed to dictate what the natives should do. The locals are of course the experts on their own culture. We outsiders are supposed to describe, not prescribe. Yes of course, as long as we’re in the jungle.

So then our far-left professors tried to pull a fast one, by blandly announcing that the same neutrality would be appropriate in New York City. We should ignore professors of English, editors, famous authors, literary experts of all kinds. Their opinions would be prescriptive and we can’t have that. Why? Because, you know, we don’t do that in the jungle! This sophistry is so lame you would think these professors would be red with embarrassment.

After students have learned the rules, they can start breaking the rules and choosing among the rules. But in the beginning students need to know Standard English. They need to know what the best and brightest do. Anything else is a war against children, and against the society in general.

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