Tag Archives: prescriptive

3 Questions Posed in “Bad Language”

Lars25-questions-to-ask-ts-gunnar Andersson and Peter Trudgill pose three questions in the Introduction of Bad Language. (p.6)

  1. Are people’s vocabularies smaller today than before?
  2. Is English changing faster today than it did before?
  3. Is English getting better or worse?

These are my takes on the questions.

  1. Looking at the data we can access on Corpus of Contemporary American English website, it might be actually possible to measure the scale of vocabularies used by people in today’s world and compare it to that of other eras in the past. The somewhat moral question that can follow is whether the smaller vocabulary is bad. It can be bad if the smaller vocabulary directly limits the way people express their thoughts and feelings. However, before the avent of internet, there was no emojies, right? (Whether emojies are part of language is a separate question.) Can a person feel the difference in their expression with different amount of vocabularies they own and use? If a person can’t feel the mere difference, does it even matter?
  2. This also seems to be measurable. One way might be looking at the rate of words being added to the lexicon and being faded out of it.
  3. This is THE question that I was drilled with in my Introduction to Linguistics class. The answer is ‘neither.’ Mainly because we can not define how a language is good or bad. In the modern linguistics, the study of language is done descriptively rather than prescriptively. Linguists observe and describe the way a language is used by native speakers. They do not judge or evaluate whether it is used in a good or bad way. However, we are not all linguists, and there are plenty of people who judge a language and/or its speakers.

My added questions would be these:

  • What is the motivation behind judging a language and its speaker? Merely to keep a status quo?
  • Is there a way for us to stop these judgements? Maybe through teaching linguistics in schools K-12?
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