Saturday, March 21, 2009

Love of Language

There was a discussion on Wordcraft that got me thinking. Apparently some people think that those who are anal about the use of words, grammar, etc., don't care much for language. The thought is that the anals (I am purposely not using that divisive "prescriptivist" word) see language as a tool for communication with specific rules, but not as a beautiful, though dynamic and evolving, way of communicating.

I don't agree. Even the wrongheaded Strunk and White are language lovers, in my opinion. I firmly believe their take on the black and white rules is just ridiculous. However, they have studied the language and use of words, just as their more flexible counterparts have. While they have different views, they still love the beauty of language.

Similarly, just because someone is a linguist doesn't mean that he or she "loves" language any more than those of us who are in other fields. Surely the linguists know more about language than we do, but they don't necessarily like language more.


Bob Hale said...

I'm not sure I agree. No one who utters the "eliminate needless words" mantra can, in my view, have a genuine love of language. Language is MADE beautiful by those needless words, by elaborate flowery expressions, by repetitious triptychs.

Such as that one. Denying this but claiming to love language is like saying you love paintings but not those done with all those nasty coloured pigments.

Kalleh said...

Well, Bob, we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. For example, there are some real linguist types, including those on Language Log, who have blatantly said that "epicaricacy" is not a word, and is, by their opinions, "needless" because we have "Schadenfreude." So doesn't that refute what you've just said since we'd all agree that Language Log posters are lovers of our language? They are just analyzing the language, showing their love of it much like Strunk and White and Lynne Truss. Now in all honesty, I hate to admit the latter. I disagree intensely with Strunk and White's and Truss's ideas. However, in trying to be objective, I do think they love language (and God it kills me to say that!).

As with any profession, there is some linguistic arrogance out there, though. There are some who think you need a PhD in linguistics, or related field, in order to be considered a "lover of language." Balderdash! Would I have started Wordcraft (and continue to financially support it) or this Blog if I didn't have a love of language? Yet, I am the first to admit that I am an amateur. Reading Saussure just about killed my brain!

On the other hand, I have been thinking about this Blog post and realizing that it is completely impossible to know how much others "love" the language. One can only know that about oneself, so maybe the premise itself is incorrect.

zmjezhd said...

While being a linguist does not necessarily mean that the person in question loves language, most linguists of my acquaintance became linguists because of a love of language. On the other hand, my relationship with the e-word is a long and troubled one. While it is a word in the sense that it exists, I still think of it as illegitimate. (1) It is no more English than schadenfreude; (2) I have never seen it in the wild prior to its appearance in the low-quality inkhorn word-lists (à la Mrs Byrne's Dictionary); (3) I find it esthetically displeasing; (4) it cannot be used, unlike schadenfreude, without being glossed or footnoted; etc. But, I repeat myself ...

goofy said...

It's true that prescriptivists might love language, but in complaining about language all the time, I don't think they're showing much love.