--- # What are languages? ### Will Styler - LIGN 101 --- ### Today's plan - What are languages, really? - Language is fractal - 'Right' and 'Wrong' in Language - 'Prescriptive' vs. 'Descriptive' Grammar --- # What are languages? --- ### There are 7,097 living languages in the world
--- ### 23 languages are spoken by more than 50 million people
--- ### Wow, that's amazing! 1.3 billion people all speak the same language! ---
--- ### Language is a bit more complicated for Linguists! --- ### Remember that multilingualism is common! - America is ridiculously monolingual compared to the rest of the world - We talk about people having an "L1" (first acquired language(s)), "L2" (second acquired language), and so on - Don't forget that many folks have more than one language, and they can blend! --- ### ... but let's focus on 'one language' ---
--- ### There are many different types of English
--- ### **Yet all are clearly 'English', right?!** ---
(and many more!) --- ### American Regional Dialect Tests - Syntax - 'The gate needs fixed' - 'I might could have some lunch' - Pronunciation - 'Pin' vs. 'Pen' - 'Mary, 'Marry', and 'Merry' - 'Dude' --- # [dud] --- # [duːːːːd] --- # [du̟ːːːːd] ---
--- ### Regional Vocabulary Differences
--- ### What's the generic word for a fizzy, sweet beverage? A) Pop B) Soda C) Soda-Pop D) Coke E) Cooldrink
--- ### What's the generic word for a fizzy, sweet beverage? A) Pop B)
C) Soda-Pop D) Coke E) Cooldrink --- (Sorry, I couldn't resist) --- ### The Great Soda Debate
) --- ### What's this thing?
--- ### Not everybody from a region will have (all of) the dialect features - This is as much a function of attitude as location - 'Rootedness' plays a major role (c.f. [Paul Reed's Work](http://paulereed.com/)) - There are many aspects of a person's identity that add up to "dialect" --- ### There are many more regions and regional features we haven't covered - Consider this a taste, not a meal! ---
--- ### It's not that simple - Young Speakers - Old Speakers - Men - Women - Non-Binary speakers - Trans speakers - Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Queer Speakers - Speakers of AAVE - Latinx/Chicano Speakers - Educated Speakers - Uneducated Speakers - Urban Speakers - Rural Speakers - Nerds - ... and so on forever --- ### These are Sociolects - A sociolect is a dialect shared among members of a certain social group - People can have influence from more than one sociolect at once - We often switch sociolects when in different social situations - Using a sociolect is a way of showing affiliation with a certain identity - Some sociolects have prestige, others don’t - ... and which dialect is prestigious varies by context - These are the bread and butter of sociolinguists --- ### People can switch among their dialects and sociolects See ["It Wasn’t ‘Verbal Blackface.’ AOC Was Code-Switching."](https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/04/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-code-switches-black-english/586723/) ---
--- ### Idiolect - You use language in a certain way, that way is your “idiolect” - Your esoteric pronunciations - The expressions and catch phrases that you use and prefer - The specific meanings that given words or phrases have to you - The features which you’ve inherited from your region(s) or social group(s) --- ### More Idiolect Features - Odd spellings or emojis you use (LOL vs. lol, “Thanx”) - Your writing style, speech style - Your individual set of speech organs (which may change the way your speech sounds) ---
--- ## Language is fractal ---
--- ### Language is fractal - You see larger patterns at first - Then you look closer and find more patterns and structure - Then you look closer and find more patterns and structure - Then you look closer and find more patterns and structure - Then you look closer and find more patterns and structure - Then you look closer and find more patterns and structure - ... you get the idea --- ### It's very hard to find clear lines - It can be hard to define what is a single language - The distinction between 'language' and 'dialect' is often political - If you like them, they speak a dialect of your language, otherwise, whole different language - Everybody speaks at least one dialect, sociolect, and idiolect - People often have features from multiple dialects or sociolects or languages - Each of these things overlap in complicated ways - **There's a reason that the social elements of language have an entire subfield** --- ### We try to discuss variation in terms of languages, dialects, sociolects and idiolects - Dialects are a particular form of language used by a certain social or geographical group of people - A sociolect is a particular social group’s specific dialect - Your idiolect is your unique way of using language and speaking - Your speech and language is variable from situation to situation, from word to word - As you look closer and closer at language, you find more patterns and complexity, not less --- ### "I can tell Pat really sent the text, she always uses the 🤷 emoji". This is an example of her... A) Dialect B) Sociolect C) Idiolect D) Emojiolect
--- ### "I can tell Pat really sent the text, she always uses the 🤷 emoji". This is an example of her... A) Dialect B) Sociolect C)
D) Emojiolect --- ### Linguists are interested in how *everybody* talks - Not just one prestigious or 'correct' variety - Not just the 'academic' or 'mainstream' dialects - Not just what goes in textbooks or dictionaries - ... and as such ... --- ### We don't tend to believe in a 'correct variety' of a language - It's hard to pin down which one *would be* correct - "Which region/dialect/sociolect/idiolect is right?" - The situationally 'correct or 'appropriate' variety is about social context - "That variety is bad here" does not mean "That variety is bad" - **'Correct' is a social judgement, not a linguistic one** --- ### So, we think about 'grammar' differently than your English professor ---
--- # Prescriptive and Descriptive Grammar --- ### Speakers of a language have intuitions about grammar --- ### Which of these sentences is 'grammatical' English? A) "John went with Tina to the cat show" B) "The boy flame take watchingsly" C) "Correct Horse Battery Staple" D) "Esta oración no es inglés" E) I'm not sure which is grammatical
--- ### Descriptive Grammar The grammatical rules of the language, dialect, and sociolect being spoken which *describe* how (a group of) people *actually talk or write*. --- ### "The boy flame take watchingsly" is descriptively ungrammatical - 'Grammatical' sentences are in harmony with the local rules - People 'stumble' over ungrammatical sentences - **When something is descriptively ungrammatical, it's often hard to understand** - Although not all hard-to-understand sentences are ungrammatical! --- ### Symbol Usage Note Linguists mark ungrammatical sentences with a star, questionable ones with a ? - *The boy flame take watchingsly - ?Which friends has Thomas painted a picture of them? --- ### Dialects and Sociolects and Idiolects each have their own descriptive grammar! - ... and they follow it! --- ### AAVE (African American Vernacular English, 'Ebonics') - Negative Concord - Can't nobody say he don't work - *Nobody can say he doesn't work. - Habitual be - He be drivin all over the place - *He often drives all over the place lately - Copula deletion - She mean. - *She's mean - **These grammatical rules are followed carefully by speakers of AAVE** --- ### It is patently false to claim that AAVE (or Chicano English, Southern English, etc) speakers 'have no grammar' - Damnit. - They use the grammar of their dialect as carefully as you do yours! --- Let's try a different set of grammar judgements... --- ### Which of these sentences is 'grammatical' English? A) 'I never know what I should write with' B) 'I don't know who she photographed' C) 'Ron and Jerry stayed home last night' D) 'We hope to considerably advance machine learning technology' E) I'm not sure which is grammatical
--- ### According to some people, C is only the correct answer A) 'Toby and me went to the park' B) 'I don't know who she photographed' C)
'Ron and Jerry stayed home last night'
D) 'We hope to considerably advance machine learning technology' E) They all seem fine to me - **A B and D all violated rules of prescriptive grammar** --- ### Prescriptive Grammar Made up or social rules that *prescribe* how people *should* talk or write --- ### The 'rules' being violated - A) 'I never know what I should write with' - "Never end a sentence with a preposition" - B) 'I don't know who she photographed' - "'whom' should be used for a direct object" - D) 'We hope to stunningly advance machine learning technology' - "How dare you split an infinitive, you ingrate!" --- ### Which one of these clicker questions was harder? --- ### Prescriptive grammar rules are social rules - They are not universally observed - They do not generally affect your ability to be understood - They're often based in written ambiguity (e.g. there, they're, their) - They're often quoted from one particular source (Strunk and White, 🤣) - They're often associated with a specific setting or institution ---
--- ### What other prescriptive grammar rules are you familiar with? --- ### Let's work on that distinction a bit more --- ### Which of these rules is a *descriptive* grammar rule? A) "Say 'I'll make do', not 'I'll make due'" B) "All sentences must include a verb" C) "Always include the punctuation inside the quote" D) "In-text citations should be surrounded by parentheses" E) "Emojis cannot be used in professional correspondence"
--- ### Which of these rules is a *descriptive* grammar rule? A) "Say 'I'll make do', not 'I'll make due'" B)
"All sentences must include a verb"
C) "Always include the punctuation inside the quote". D) "In-text citations should be surrounded by parentheses" E) "Emojis cannot be used in professional correspondence" --- ### Which of these sentences is a *descriptively* ungrammatical? A) "Me and Mark are going clubbing" B) "I hate polar bears, there paws are too big." C) "Frank Suzanne live Dallas" D) "Herbert ain't gone to the store yet" E) "Michael Bay luvs 2 desecrate good cartoonz."
--- ### Which of these sentences is a *descriptively* ungrammatical? A) "Me and Mark are going clubbing" B) "I hate polar bears, there paws are too big." C)
"Frank Suzanne live Dallas"
D) "Herbert ain't gone to the store yet" E) "Michael Bay luvs 2 desecrate good cartoonz. " --- ### Linguists are interested in *descriptive grammar* - We don't believe there is a 'correct' variety - A rule which a large number of people don't follow isn't a real rule - ... or it's not a rule in all dialects - And if you speak a non-standard variety, we think that's awesome! --- ### It's fun to see *when* prescriptive corrections are made - Sometimes, people truly believe the rules are real - Awwwwwww.... - Often, they're trying to help - "If you want to be taken seriously in [context], you'll need to talk like this" - Sometimes, they're trying to show superiority - "You bring an argument before me yet you cannot master even basic grammatical structure! Fool!" - ... and frustratingly often, it's because ... --- ### Attacking people's language is often used as a covert way of attacking people - "Somebody needs to teach these inner-city kids to be more articulate" - "You're in America, learn to speak English right" - "You're so shrill, you should be more lady-like in your speech" - "He's a nice boy, but why does he have to talk so Mexican?" - ["Damned teenage girls filling their speech with [insert thing we all do]"](https://www.npr.org/2015/07/23/425608745/from-upspeak-to-vocal-fry-are-we-policing-young-womens-voices) --- ### Whole languages get similar ideological treatments - People love describing languages as 'rough' or 'unevolved' or 'angry' or 'primitive' or 'romantic' (and so on) - These ideas are generally not supported by or evaluable in linguistic theory! - They often cite characteristics found in huge numbers of languages as 'evidence' of this - These are usually social judgements applied to people via their languages - ... rather than facts about the languages themselves - Be careful with these kinds of language ideologies, as they can be hurtful - ... and ask yourself why and how they're being discussed! --- ### Of course, it's not all like that - Most people mean well - There's value to learning how to talk like the Old People with Power want you to talk in some contexts - "Code switching" among dialects for fun and profit. - ... but it's important to think carefully about these things --- ### This is why Linguists don't like being called 'grammarians' - It's why we spend so much time talking about the difference between descriptive and prescriptive grammar in LIGN 101 - ... and it's why we'll spend the rest of the quarter talking about descriptive grammar, rather than prescriptive grammar --- # Wrapping up - Language is fractal with massive amounts of variation - We try to subdivide variation into dialects, sociolects, and idiolects - It's hard to identify a 'correct' variety, and that's a social thing anyways - Descriptive rules describe what's actually being said - Prescriptive rules prescribe what somebody *thinks* should be said - Linguists care about descriptive grammar, and don't tend to buy into 'prescriptive rules' --- ## For next time - Read Fromkin's chapter on 'Phonetics' if you'd like - ... and don't be a pedantic twit ---