Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Language Police

A review of David Crystal's "How Language Works" in the Times (UK).

Should we care about aberrant apostrophes and other solecisms? Not according to one expert. But just wait for the outraged letters in green ink.
Can you begin to imagine the effect such heresy will have on the GIB? Here is a learned academic, arguably the most respected scholar of the structure of the English language in the land, telling us that Lynne Truss — and, by extension, every pedant in the land — is wrong. He goes farther. He compares people who pontificate on language and think they can sort out language problems with people who can fix our car when it goes wrong — and the language lot come off the worst. Some people, he says, “without any training at all even go so far as to write repair manuals about language and expect other people to live by their recommendations”.

Professor Crystal takes particular exception to those who think a large proportion of the population is “linguistically criminal”. They believe in the small set of rules they have managed themselves to acquire. They condemn others who have not had the same educational opportunities for not following those same rules: “Enthused by the Stalinesque policing metaphor, they advocate a policy of zero tolerance to eradicate all traces of the aberrant behaviour.”

Well now, steady on, professor. Lynne Truss can perfectly well defend herself without any help from me; she has a couple of million devoted readers to call on if she needs to. But I’ve never really thought of myself as Stalinesque — even if I do get a bit cross with people who break certain basic rules when they should know better. The truth is, it depends on the rule.

I have a nagging feeling that I would be part of this legendary GIB (Green-Ink Brigade) that the reviewer speaks of. Yee-haw.

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