Thursday, January 08, 2009

Person the barricades!

English, like all languages, changes over time as well as distance, both physical and cultural. We editors sometimes argue that certain types of change are morally superior to other types of change, and many a hair is split (or pulled!) in interminable debates of such arcana. Meanwhile, linguists tend toward the opposite point of view, perhaps unfairly caricatured as an unwillingness to call anything a human being ever uttered a mistake. This caricature is often trotted out in response to equally scurrilous mischaracterization on their part of what editors do as constantly fixing things that aren’t wrong.

If you want to both think clearly about and speak intelligently about linguistic change, though, I highly recommend as background this guest post on Language Log by linguist Don Ringe. It puts our quotidian concerns about comma placement in a grander historical context than we usually consider.

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