On 16 October 2012 17:52, David McCann <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> On Tue, 16 Oct 2012 08:46:12 +0200
> Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> > We think it's "obvious" that a
> > writing system is just a representation of a language, not the
> > language itself, that it's secondary to the spoken word.
> I don't! Writing has seldom been a simple transcription of speech. If
> you look at the earliest Sumerian, the script leaves out a lot of
> things, like the tenses of verbs. The written language is used under
> different circumstances to the spoken and may need different solutions.
> There have been linguists in modern times who have argued for its
> independence (e.g. Haas. Phono-graphic translation).
True. But what I said is valid of romanisations, usually.

> > Why do you think most linguists still have to
> > explain that their job isn't to teach others how to write well?
> But who else could?

At the very least not linguists, who have as much to say to people about
how they use their language as astronomers have to say to planets abvout
how they orbit their stars, i.e. nothing at all! The job of an astronomer
is to describe celestial bodies' movements, and explain how and why they
happen that way, not to tell this or that planet that their orbit is too
elliptical for their solar system. In the same way, the job of a linguist
is to describe people's utterances, and explain how and why they happen
that way, not to tell them how they should go about using their language!

At most a linguist can make a note of the type of register a particular
utterance is in. But any naturally produced utterance is valid data for a
linguist, even the most socially unaccepted.

> This takes me back to the controversy over the
> removal of labels like "colloquial" from Webster's Dictionary in the
> 1960s, while the OED retained that, "slang", and "erroneous".

"Colloquial" and "slang" are OK labels to have, as long as they are
correctly used. "Erroneous" isn't. If it's produced naturally and accepted
as such by peers, it's correct. Whether it's socially acceptable to use it
in some circles is a completely different question, and not one linguists
should have to bother with. They are scientists, not style advisers!

> The
> existence of standards of correctness in speech and writing is a social
> fact and a linguistic phenomenon.

Yes, so linguists should describe them if necessary. But it's not their
jobs to impose them!

> There's a lot of leftist and populist
> ideology in 20th century linguistics, especially that emanating from
> the USA.

And what has this got to do with anything? Data is data. If anything, the
Pompei graffiti have been more useful to linguists in forming a picture of
how Latin was actually spoken than the works of Cicero.
Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets.