The Workings of Language: From Prescriptions to Perspectives

The Workings of Language: From Prescriptions to Perspectives

The Workings of Language: From Prescriptions to Perspectives

The Workings of Language: From Prescriptions to Perspectives

Synopsis

The essays in this book help to make sense of the workings of language in our everyday world--on the personal, local, national, and international levels. The authors are all linguists, seeking to help readers free themselves of language prejudices, thus opening the way to better informed views on the function of language in society, a more balanced treatment in schools, and more linguistically-sound public policies.

Excerpt

As a linguist and English teacher, I regularly see consequences of our early and not-so-early language training. Often, as people first learn of my profession, they back into a cognitive corner: "Oh, I'll have to watch my grammar," they worry. Or, "I'm not so good at grammar." Or, in a more aggressive stance, they commiserate, "You must hate the way people butcher the language these days." Others may bemoan how "Southerners get their words wrong" or speakers of Black English are just talking "garbage" and are "too lazy to get English right." Many people believe that they can know a person's intelligence or his or her very worth through the language he or she speaks. Such language concerns are shared not only privately, but also publicly at high governmental levels. Indeed, in response to a perceived multilingual menace in the United States, the U.S. House of Representatives even passed an English Language Empowerment Act in August 1996.

It is my hope that this volume will help undo common misconceptions about language. It arose out of my musings and discussions with English- faculty colleagues in which we identified what we hoped a graduating English major would come to know about his or her language. in addition to delving into expository and creative writing, literature, literary theory, and literary criticism, I hoped my students would emerge with a greater understanding of what language is and what it is not.

The contributors to this volume speak to common misinformation on language and help to soften the rules-and-regulations approach to language correctness. If there is a single theme, it is this: when you encounter intense, aggravated claims about language, pause. Indeed, dark claims about lan-

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