Friday, June 4, 2010

English Grammar 'Rules'

Despite the fact that students seek hard and fast rules for grammar that are ALWAYS true, they don't seem to exist in reality. I used to cringe when I'd hear radio talk-show hosts on NPR use the word 'less' with a countable noun like people, probably because I had just taught my students that they should use the comparative 'fewer' in that situation. However, as is stated in this VOA (Voice of America) interview, grammar, like other aspects of language, is not as fixed as we were taught to believe decades ago. Grammar reflects the way people use the language. As has often been noted in this blog, as English becomes more and more globalized, what is accepted as standard structure will continually change with the expanding 'speakership.'


Clarissa at Talk to the Clouds said...

Often, what people perceive as a change in recent times and/or a result of "outsiders" speaking the language isn't the case at all. Many times, the usage is quite old, and it's the language peeve itself that's relatively new. :) The esteemed linguist David Crystal's book The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left explores this phenomenon from a British perspective. I highly recommend it!

Here's a post from Language Log about "less" and "fewer," for example:
(I think "less" is probably preferred with "people," though I usually wind up saying "not as many" in order not to offend peevologists. ;))

manyenglishes said...

Thanks, Clarissa, for the great comment. I've checked out the Language Log link and enjoyed reading about their findings.

I agree that what seem to be changes in language usage may not have a direct connection with 'outsiders' English. Is someone who speaks English as a second language an 'outsider' to English?

English has been widespread around the world for quite a long time. I am sure there are many factors at work affecting how 'correct' it sounds to me. Exposure to the internet has certainly allowed me to read and hear many more Englishes than I did thirty years ago. Some of these expressions or collocations may have been around for a few hundred years, for example, but I had never heard it.

I'll see if I can check out a copy of 'The Fight for English.'