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A Wee Linguistic Rant

It's really quite sad the things which aggravate me. One of which (lately) is when people adamantly claim some "rule of the English language" that is Law (TM). And proceed to quote some dusty anachronism of a mis-generalization.

Example: We have the infamous "do not end your sentences with prepositions". And why did this ever get to be a rule written in the proverbial linguistic stone? Because English grammarians were having Latin-envy. In Latin you can't end with a preposition. Why? Often, it's because the preposition in English is really marking things like dative case for the indirect object of the sentence. And in Latin, that was a case marking on the verb - you can't leave the preposition at the end because there was no actual preposition. Just a noun with a case ending. End of story. You move the noun, you've moved the implicit case marking - and thus the "English preposition".

But English isn't like that. We use prepositions which are, in fact, separate bits of morphology. They're in the lexicon as separate entries. They are not just endings on the noun. Thus, we can strand them at the end of sentences with impunity. Is it a tragedy? No. Is our language becoming degenerate? Of course not. That preposition thing is just about thinking some other language with dative case markings is better than ours. Feh, I say, to that.

And don't get me wrong - I have no problem with people who prefer to say "To whom did you give the book?" I just want to rip throats when some supercilious little twit berates someone else who says the perfectly acceptable "Who did you give the book to?"

This is the problem of being a linguistics geek. I don't care about prescriptive linguistics. I don't care what someone 50 years ago says is the correct way to insert "that" into a complement phrase. Languages are supposed to change, damnit. If they didn't, we'd still be speaking Old English (at the very least) - possibly Nostratic or some other such thing.


I think what really set me off was happening across some entry about "Well, my high school English teacher said...[insert stupid frozen rule here that poo-poos a perfectly sensible way of using language for emphasis]". And don't get me started on the Standard Written Test of English that's made its way back into the SATs. Grrr.

[geek geek geek]


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 22nd, 2003 08:59 pm (UTC)
...and so often, the idiots who are so very proud of their sentences which don't end in prepositions will mis-use some other bit of language in the process of being smug about their superiority. I can very easily see the average idiot retorting that "Well, English is *different than* Latin", for instance.
Aug. 23rd, 2003 04:22 am (UTC)
Not that "different than" is wrong per-se.

Usage Note: Different from and different than are both common in British and American English. The construction different to is chiefly British. Since
the 18th century, language critics have singled out different than as incorrect, though it is well attested in the works of reputable writers. According to traditional guidelines, from is
used when the comparison is between two persons or things: My book is different from (not than) yours. Different than is more acceptably used, particularly in American usage, where
the object of comparison is expressed by a full clause: The campus is different than it was 20 years ago. Different from may be used with a clause if the clause starts with a
conjunction and so functions as a noun: The campus is different from how it was 20 years ago.
·Sometimes people interpret a simple noun phrase following different than as elliptical for a clause, which allows for a subtle distinction in meaning between the two constructions.
How different this seems from Paris suggests that the object of comparison is the city of Paris itself, whereas How different this seems than Paris suggests that the object of
comparison is something like “the way things were in Paris” or “what happened in Paris.”

However, the person who inspired Jalen's ire did twice use the fantastic word 'acutally' in their statement, thus upholding the primary premise of your comment.
Aug. 23rd, 2003 07:10 am (UTC)
"My book is different than yours" is repulsive to me.

"No, it's different than what you just said."

I find this usage personally abhorrent, and have never really liked the slide, as all too many American accents have now turned it into "different *then* what you just said" and will write it as such.
Aug. 22nd, 2003 09:22 pm (UTC)
Grammar query:

   Nine Inch Nails - "I want to feel you from the inside."

Would this be ending a proposition with a preposition...

Aug. 23rd, 2003 06:42 am (UTC)
Nah - "the inside" is a noun phrase here. [Major evidence: determiners like "the" only go with noun phrases. Witness "the man", "the apple", vs *"the up"] So, really, what you have is a would-be preposition acting like a noun, and thus, for all practical purposes, being a noun.
Aug. 23rd, 2003 06:54 am (UTC)
...so alas, we fall short of a proposition-ending preposition.
Aug. 23rd, 2003 12:09 pm (UTC)
One could say something ending with a preposition in order to end a proposition, however, such as the second speaker's part in this:
"Will you marr-"
"What would I want to do that for?"
Aug. 23rd, 2003 11:36 am (UTC)
I love your lingusitic posts.

*happy sigh*
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


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Jalen Strix

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