Monday, January 12, 2009

Honk your body

I don't know if I've mentioned it on here before, but I've been reading a book on language, it's history, and the study of it. I'm about 400 pages in, but it's taken me 7 months. You see the difficulty is that I've only read this text while on the crapper. It has changed quite a few of my views on language, and reinforced others.

I've read all sorts of interesting things in this book: The Lord's prayer in Old, Middle, Early, and Modern English. It's really interesting to see how the laguage evolved. I've read an essay by a Professor from Urbana Champaign who found teaching Hamlet in bush Africa difficult (their language had no word for ghost, et al). I've recently read about Spanglish... and how it's not bad Spanish or bad English, but a combination that allows fluent speakers of both languages to express themselves with more freedom.

Anyway, today I'd like to approach the subject of prepositions... which may be touchy for those of you that grew up around a MLS Nazi. Do you guys remember the rule, "Never end a sentence in a preposition"? Well guess what... Robert Lowth, in A Short Introduction English Grammar freaking made it up. No science persay, he just found preposition stranding informal, so he wrote it in a book. He may have borrowed from Latin, but why should the Latin spoke at the beginning of time (1 AD ;-) have any bearing on a totally different language that had evolved far from it's roots?

If Lowth can do it, so can I. Here is Brady's perscribed grammar for dealing with prepositions.
-It is ok to end a sentence with them to avoid cumbersome talk, or when it makes sense as part of the infinitive form of the verb. Example: "There are some treausers we're going to look for." Instead of, "There are some bikes fot which we're going to look." The latter is simply cumbersome, and additionally the infintive form of the verb in is arguably "to look for." (procurar in Portuguese, similar to buscar in Spanish, translates directly to, "to look for")
-It is not OK to end a sentence in a preposition if you are wasting breath. Why not, because it's unneccesary. Stop wasting my time with meaningless honks of your body. Examples: Where are you at? or Where are you going to? I know you midwesterners especially just want to use that extra word, but don't. Just shut your mouth before it comes out; Cram it up your cramhole.

If you've made it this far, you're either bored, you have some interest in grammar, or you're just one of those people that can't put a book down half-read... even if they know the rest is going to babble on and on and eventually, after much verbosity get to the point that you could see coming since 100 pages ago (these type people are the only kind who've ever made it through Ayn Rand books). Either way... I bet you'll click on this link to some current Disputes in English Grammar


Blogger Cassy said...

I love Ayn Rand. Though I did skip the 50 some odd page speech by John Galt in Atlas Shrugged.

As for making up new language rules...people do it all the time. We just don't always write it down. I think language change is fascinating. Does your book mention pidgin English?

12:23 PM  
Blogger Brady said...

There are a couple of chapters on pidgins and creoles. I'll give it to you when I'm done.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Brady said...

also, did you click on the link?

and BTW I read the John Galt speech you didn't miss anything unexpected

2:27 PM  
Blogger charlie said...

I'm not sure of the terminology, but I think that being forced to use "he or she" or the gender-inclusive He is painfully awkward. If we could use They in their place it'd be much nicer.

As for the to-whiches, for-whiches, and sand-wiches, regardless of the origin of the rule I think that their proper use reveals a well-organized mind. If your sentences wander around it seems like you talk faster than you think. I don't correct people when they end a sentence in a preposition, but if I hear someone use a to-which in natural speech I secretly award them a few points in my head.

You might like Stephen Pinker. I'm reading "The Stuff Of Thought," in which he shows that a lot of the weird inconsistencies in English actually reveal some of the ways we conceptualize the things we're talking about. Or, the things about which we're talking

8:31 PM  
Blogger Brady said...

I'll have to put that one on the queue; I do like Pinker.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Cassy said...

When I was in an Intro to Linguistics class the teacher told us about an attempt in academia to introduce a third person neutral pronoun. The proposed pronouns were "e" and "tey" instead of using "they" or just "he" as people often do. Obviously it hasn't happened.

8:18 AM  

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