s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: A manifesto

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A manifesto

One of the great misconceptions about linguistics majors is that we like to go around correcting people’s grammar. (That stereotype properly belongs to English majors, if anyone.) So, just to be clear:

I will not correct your grammar because . . .

1. It’s rude.
2. I don’t care.
3. I might be wrong.
4. It really doesn’t matter.

Under certain circumstances, these rules don’t necessarily apply. I might correct your grammar if . . .

1. You are a nonnative English speaker who is trying to improve your English.
2. You are highly grammatically or linguistically aware, and can hold your own in a grammar debate. (Even then, I’m not overly troubled by colloquy, but I’d probably point out a hypercorrection.)

This is what actually does go through the mind of a linguistics major when they hear a bit of nonstandard English:

1. Did she really say that? (Observer error.)
2. Does she always say that? (Performance error.)
3. Is this a consistent phonological shift? (Different accent.)
4. Is she a native speaker of English? (L2 error.)
5. Does she have brain damage? (Some neurological conditions cause specific types of errors.)
6. Does everyone say that where she comes from? (Regional idiom.)
7. Does she form other such expressions along the same grammatically consistent pattern? (Dialectical difference.)
8. Is this part of a larger linguistic trend in English as a whole? (Today’s pet peeve is tomorrow’s standard usage!)

By this point, I’m either musing on the nature of language in the abstract, or possibly I’ve come back to the conversation and am desperately trying to catch up on what she’s talking about.

Either way, I’m not correcting her grammar.


At March 08, 2007 3:52 PM, Blogger alea said...

I actually will correct people's grammar. But, you're right. That's not the linguist in me. It's the pedant.

At March 09, 2007 12:52 AM, Blogger Clean Slate said...

All I can say is, "AMEN!"

At March 09, 2007 8:46 AM, Blogger Petra said...

Why do only females speak nonstandard English? Sexist.

At March 09, 2007 11:55 PM, Blogger Th. said...


I do too, but not so many questions. And I never bother to come up with answers. Besides, they're probably right.

At March 10, 2007 9:32 PM, Blogger Melyngoch said...

3. Is this a consistent morphological shift? (Different accent.)

OK, so, I know this would be rude, but I figure you count as someone who would like to be corrected, so, did you mean "phonology"?

At March 12, 2007 9:34 AM, Blogger Katya said...

alea - It's people like you who give the rest of us a bad name!

petra - I'm in library science school. Everyone I know is female.

melyngoch - Fixed. (And I appreciate the irony of the comment.)

At March 13, 2007 11:18 AM, Blogger Squirrel Boy said...

I think that being afraid to speak in front of a linguist is a lot like being afraid to be human in front of an anthropologist.


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