Beware the “Self-Appointed Language Arbiter”!

This Prof won’t tolerate those grammatical errors…

“The view of language as a variable system is at odds with the notions expressed in traditional grammars and adopted by teachers who insist that there is only one “correct” way to speak the language… Though unsupported by any scientific evidence, such notions are propagated by a host of self-appointed language arbiters who proffer inept advice on matters of correctness and find errors where a bona fide language specialist would find none.”

– Milton M. Azevedo, in Portuguese: A Linguistic Introduction

I’d rather write the way people actually use the language, rather than worry about being “grammatically correct”. Clearly, you’ve got to follow grammar most of the time, or risk being incomprehensible. But pretending that people don’t break grammatical rules all the time in everyday speech, insisting we remember grammar rules that people stopped following fifty years ago, or acting like the rules are hard and fast when they’re really just pragmatic things, is stretching it a bit.

When I was in Brazil, one of the Brazilians who spoke English asked if it was more correct to say “lie in the grass” or “lay in the grass.” None of us knew off the top of our heads. He was like, “You guys speak English and you don’t even know???” But it just goes to show most people don’t really care about whether they’re using the words correctly, or even think about grammatical rules, until the rare moment that they’re faced with an academic paper or have to meet the Queen.

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