Professor Liberman has posted (over at Language Log, link) about the whole 'Scriptivist Wars, and he has suggested a third position, intermediate between the prescriptivist and the descriptivist straw men ends of the spectrum, which he says is inhabited by Rational People.
Let me decline to enlist on either side of this concocted War of the 'Scriptivists, and speak instead on behalf of a third group: the Rational People. We believe in making value judgements about language use: some writers are better than others, and even good writers sometimes make poor choices and outright mistakes. But we also believe in the value of facts, both about linguistic history and about current usage. We're unwilling to accept the assertions of self-appointed linguistic authorities about what is "right" and "wrong" in standard formal English, if these assertions conflict with the way that the best writers write. We understand that vernacular forms of English are not faulty or degenerate approximations to the formal standard — instead, they're just, well, vernacular. We're willing to accept, as Horace was, that new words and structures, and new uses of old words and structures, can be a valuable addition even to the most formal linguistic registers.
In a nutshell: we don't worship our own prejudices, and we're more curious than censorious.
There's a characteristic psychological dynamic here. People like Mr. Rose see a bit of writing or talk that irks them. They're not interested in analyzing the problematic usage, tracing its history, looking at its contemporary distribution and its relationship to other phenomenon, exploring the nature of their own reaction to it — no, they just want to make those people stop, dammit. And they want the rest of us to join them in howling at the miscreants. If we suggest a more temperate investigation, or dare to question whether a crime has been committed at all, they turn their wrath on us as well. In fact, our analytic detachment seems to annoy them even more than the object of their jihad does.
[Addendum: And a followup posting about a Arnold Zwicky posting to the sci.lang news group (link).]This message has been edited. Last edited by: zmježd,
Very nice. Wordmatic's signature "ascriptivsm is a viable alternative" has a rival term for Language Log's "Rational People."
I wondered where the title of your thread came from (I kept reading Language Log and couldn't find it) so finally I looked it up. Once I did ("a silly altercation"), boy, do I love it! I'd say we've seen a few of those here.