Tag Archives: prescriptive

Burmese inadequate for the modern world says the New York Times

The New York Times recently published an article about Myanmar’s transition into a more modern state. You can read the article here. The focus is on how the national language, Burmese, is an impediment to the country’s future. (The name of the language is based on “Burma”, the older English name for the country.) The article is full of fallacies, bad arguments, and misinformation that leaves us with the impression that Burmese is linguistically impoverished, and that the speakers of the language have no chance of making it in the modern world. Here’s the opening statement:
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Gwynne’s Grammar

I noticed a few references to this book recently on Twitter, so I had to check it out. The “Gwynne” in the title is a Mr. Nevile Martin Gwynne. He is apparently somewhat well-known already for writing in the Sunday Times, and because he teaches children Latin through Skype. He also has a website over at http://www.nmgwynne.net.

This review focusses mainly on the preface and first two chapters of Gwynne’s Grammar, because that’s where he lays out his philosophy of language, and that is the interesting part. The second part of the book is basically just a reprinting of Elements of Style. Part three has appendices. Continue reading

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Spelling is not grammar

One of the things that really bugs me about the “grammar police” type is their inability to distinguish grammar from spelling. I am sick of reading “grammar” posts on your vs. you’re. It is not a grammar mistake – it’s just a spelling mistake. Native English speakers absolutely know the difference. I am 100% sure that the mental grammar of an English speaker, the only grammar that really matters, distinguishes the lexical items your and you’re, even if the speaker doesn’t always know how to spell them.
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Not everything is grammatical

This is a follow-up on my last post about grammatical rules. There I argued that we should figure out the grammar of a language by observing how native speakers use that language. One of the replies to that post argued back that this approach seems to dispense with grammar all together. If grammar can be inferred from usage, then whatever anyone says is correct. In other words, anything goes and grammar becomes a free-for-all.

I can see how someone might draw that conclusion, and in fact this is probably the most common response I get to this idea. But adopting a usage-based approach doesn’t mean that a sentence is correct just because someone said it. Continue reading

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