[NTLK] [OT} Re: 20 MB memory cards FAQ

Lord Groundhog lordgroundhog at gmail.com
Tue Dec 4 08:18:28 EST 2012

~~~ On 2012/12/04 00:48, joe kallo at quietglow at gmail.com wrote ~~~

> To the argument that the English language ought to remain static, obey the
> old damn rules etc. I would reply with an example:
> Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
> The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
> And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
> Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
> Forget possessive apostrophes: we need to teach this Chaucer dude how to
> spell!
> ;-)
> Joe

Reference to Chaucer is an interesting point and one that's frequently made
by "descriptivists".  However, I'd like to point out that Chaucer's English
(technically, "Middle English") was a very different beast, one in which
standards couldn't remain static because they didn't yet exist.  The English
of his time was much more a collection of highly regionalized dialects than
a single language, and it was written and read by a comparatively select few
since literacy wasn't widespread.  Also, Middle English was strongly
influenced by the more commonly spoken French and by Medieval Latin and
German.   IOW, "English" at that time was still in gestation, and Chaucer
did a fine job as one of its midwives.

Also, standardization requires the ability to disseminate widely from an
agreed upon authority.  Neither this ability nor the requisite authority yet
existed in his time.

Leaving it at that for now, quite simply, Chaucer isn't really relevant to
this insofar as he is not a variation from "standard English" since there
was none, and standards of language cannot be applied usefully in
retrospect.  I'd argue that in fact Chaucer is evidence of the need for

As for your question of English remaining static, "standard" shouldn't be
confused with "static".  Most prescriptivists would, I think, argue for the
former but not for the latter.

The point of standards in language is to maximize the possibility of
precision and accuracy in communication and to minimize or preclude the
possibility of ambiguity, imprecision or error.

If I may refer to the parallel of the way measurements have developed over
the ages, I'd point out that there's a progression in something like
measuring a liquid or solid from what must've been very vague quantities
like handfuls, scoops, and so on, to the present day where we can measure
*accurately* in tiny fractions of milliliters or milligrams.  This
progression seems to go hand in hand pretty well the progression from the
village magician making potions and amulets through alchemy to modern
chemistry.  One of the side effects of better measurement was the ability to
communicate precisely and reproducibly how an experiment was done.  Arguably
the ability to communicate unambiguously about the way an experiment was
conducted is at the core of the scientific method and therefore of science
itself.  That requires standards, rigorously adhered to.

More simply, if only my Grandmother had let me convert her "pinches" and
"palms" and "handfuls" and "the temperature of my wrist" etc., into modern
measurements, I wouldn't be such a failure at reproducing some of her finest
delicacies.  :-(  

We've needed nearly a millenium to the create the standards of English that
have predominated over the last century, but if we aren't careful, in just a
few generations English once again could become a loose collection of tribal
dialects that struggle to find common ground.  Does that sound like an
exaggeration?  Consider what happens already when you phone a help-line only
to discover it has been outsourced to a country where the dialect of English
is quite different from your own.  People like to point to India for an
example of this, but that's primarily due to pronunciation and in
particular, where the stress falls in polysyllabic words.  The standard of
written English is quite high there.  Closer to home, I've observed
shoddiness not only in the spoken English but also in the written English of
people who should know better, but who no longer seem to think it's
important to speak or write accurately and unambiguously.  It isn't pretty.

All that was just to illustrate this:   it took us centuries to arrive at a
form of English that can be understood almost universally among everyone who
claims to "speak English".  Why undo all that work and allow English to
degenerate once again?

OK, I'll stop. [rant=OFF]

WAIT!  I can make this Newton-relevant!!   "The Newton's amazing HWR would
become MUCH less accurate if we did away with standards of language."




~~~ ~~~ ~~~

*The Destruction Of Life As We Know It*
    might not be as relevant to Newtons
        as poutine.
               -- Lord Groundhog

(With thanks to Chod Lang)

~~~ ~~~ ~~~
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