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Whose in charge of the English Language?

  1. Apr 7, 2005 #1


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    This really isn't a homework question, but a curiosity prompted by being marked off for a gramatical error.

    I am going to go to the store.

    I'm gonna go to the store.

    Both are accepted in conversational English, but in the 2nd one, I'm is a proper contraction for I am, but gonna, although commonly accepted in conversation, is not a proper contraction for going to.

    Every year, it makes big news when Webster's Dictionary adds words. But who appointed them overseers of the English Language?

    And if there are no overseers, then whose to say that gonna is not correct?

    Also, American English came from England English. At what point did someone say that colour would now be color? And who had the authority to make this change? Is it just that the American masses started spelling it this way, and if the masses do it, that makes it correct? If so, gonna should also be correct. Or should color just be considered a common misspelling for colour?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 7, 2005 #2
    Who had the authority to change couleur to colour?

    Languages evolve.
  4. Apr 7, 2005 #3
    There's a mistake in your title :wink:.
  5. Apr 7, 2005 #4
    There is also a difference between formal English and informal English. In informal use, there is no real necessity to adhere to strict conventions, so the language can change quite quickly. Formally, ideas need to be expressed much more clearly and precisely, in most situations, so formal language evolves more slowly. What you're taught in school is oriented toward formal English. I would find it highly doubtful that very many native English speakers have trouble expressing themselves conversationally at, say, the high school level, but formal writing is a (much) different story.
  6. Apr 7, 2005 #5

    Doc Al

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    Good one, Nylex. :rofl:
  7. Apr 7, 2005 #6
    Until Noah Webster wrote the American English dictionary, spelling was pretty much a matter of personal taste. So in addition to establishing a standard spelling for words that had none, he decided to clean up some words that extra letters in them while he was at it. Hence "color" instead of "colour". He also realized that English is not the same thing as French, and thus we should write "center" instead of "centre".
  8. Apr 7, 2005 #7


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    Funny how the English haven't come to this "realisation" yet. Sorry for the sarcasm, but what I mean is, what you are saying is contradictory and/or nonsensical. On the one hand you state correctly that spelling is based on completely arbitrary conventions. On the other hand, you start talking about what we "should" and "should not" write in order to distinguish English from French. That makes no sense...what part about "arbitrary" didn't you understand? You speak of English as though it has preordained natural characteristics that distinguish it from other languages, characteristics that are somehow out of our control and that we are simply forced to adhere to once we "come to realise" their true nature! That is not so, as language is a human invention; only conventions force us to adhere to certain spellings. Who's to say that the correct English spelling is not exactly the same as the correct French spelling (and that happens to be so, for the word centre). I have no problem with the fact that conventions change, as they have in the US. I'm simply pointing out that the way in which you stated your assertion implied that you thought that it was some sort of universal truth or fundamental law of nature (out of our hands...and discovered by Webster in an epiphany) that English must have slightly different spellings from analogous French words, and that is just funny :biggrin: .
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2005
  9. Apr 8, 2005 #8


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    As far as this board is concerned, I am. :smile:

    Who the Fegg is Webster anyway? He sounds like a right pillock.
  10. Apr 8, 2005 #9


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    Webster's bases their decisions on usage. They are reactive, not proactive. If anyone controls the language, its the MLA.
  11. Apr 8, 2005 #10


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    It is not contradictory to say that you should write a certain way based on convention. That's the whole point of a convention.
  12. Apr 8, 2005 #11
    I think popular society controls the English language as in words. I also think your teacher is right: I bet s/he wants you to write in formal english, not conversational.
  13. Apr 8, 2005 #12


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    In theory, every language should have enough standardization that a person can determine the pronunciation from the spelling and vice versa. The 'correct' spelling is the spelling that conforms to some pattern that makes it comprehensible.

    However, if you're confining your comment just to the English language, then I agree. :redface:
  14. Apr 8, 2005 #13
    I think I would shoot myself if 'gonna' became an accepted abbreviation for 'going to'.
    It is also disgraceful to see what words have actually made their way into the Dictionary.
    I will leave you to look these up yourselves if you don't know them, but here are some pretty awful examples of how idiots are corrupting the language so to speak.

    Golden shower (I think that's right)

    Another thing that kind of annoys me is the mispronunciation and misuse of words.
    Enormity - Use the word enormousness when referring to the size of something.
    Negotiate - Last time I checked negotiate wasn't spelled negociate so it isn't upper class to pronounce it that way...it's wrong!

    Well there are a lot more, but I won't bore you guys with my crap :)
  15. Apr 8, 2005 #14


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    Correct pronunciation encompasses a much wider range than does correct spelling. Even confining outselves to an individual language (and here I'll say English, for reasons of familiarity) pronouncing a word in a geordie, brummie, scouse, welsh or any other accent is no less valid or correct than pronouncing the same word in RP.

    I don't know what the American English version of RP is, (perhaps it's the same, perhaps Moonbear knows?) but I'm sure that it's no more valid than any crazy strange accent from, well, anywhere.

    What's wrong with daisychain? It's quite common for words which have been hyphenated which have developed distinct meanings from their original words to then be contracted to form a new word.
  16. Apr 8, 2005 #15
    To daisychain is very common, so I don't see it as "disgraceful". People daisychain computers. CAN and I2C are daisychained protocols. The other two I don't ever recall seeing in the dictionary, nor are they listed on webter's web site.

    Now, to complain about the volution of language is akin to complaining about the sun not raising when you want it to. We could all revert back to old english now couldn't we; however, I believe most people today would have a problem with that. There's a reason language evolves--it needs to meet and keep up with changes in technology and society as well.

    [edit]It also appears websters doesn't have a definition for the contracted form of daisychain http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=Daisychain&x=0&y=0 [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  17. Apr 8, 2005 #16
    When do you think they will add "woot" to the dictionary?
  18. Apr 8, 2005 #17
    i'm pretty sure the admittance of words into dictionaries today is controlled by a committee respective to the dictionary they are working on. which is why different dictionaries have different words. the committees are usually made up of intelligent scholars... i'm sure you could google a list of names.

    however admittance of new words is pretty strict. again, i don't know the requirements, but you might be able to google those too. even if a dictionary decides to add a word from common usage, they'll often note it as slang.

    but then again, who cares about orthography anyway? it's only a convention, and doesn't really have any concrete basis.
  19. Apr 8, 2005 #18


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    I get cepheid's point but spelling is not based on arbitrary conventions. Words are usually spelled the way they're pronounced- and for good reasons. Spelling is also consistent for the most part. The choice of symbols isn't arbitrary either; Having 2 or 100,000 or extremely complex symbols isn't practical. The symbols also correspond to phonemes whose numbers are limited by our speech organs. And so on. There may not be much of a difference between "color" and "colour", but there's a bigger difference between "color" and "coler", and a huge difference between "color" and "dkpmrwt".
    Anywho, if a language document is meant to be used for a long time to come, to become part of a larger set of documents, or to be read by a wide variety of people, doesn't it make sense to have a wiser, stricter, more constant set of rules which don't change from person to person, place to place, or generation to generation? Actually, a problem of many constructed languages has been that the rules were changed too often, people couldn't keep up, stability was lost, and the language fell out of use.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2005
  20. Apr 8, 2005 #19


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    This goes exactly back to the point made earlier stating why, in schools, you are taught how to use the English language correctly. Written documents hang around a lot longer than spoken words, and the amount by which they are globally understood is imperative to areas such as law and the sciences.

    If you're just chatting to your mates, it doesn't really matter how good the language is, as long as you know that they have understood you. This luxury is not often afforded in written media, a notable exception being internet chat rooms and forums, where the communication exhange is much more like a verbal conversation than a series of letters.
  21. Apr 8, 2005 #20
    In 50 years, gonna probably will be.

    Its who's, not whose. That error is just obscene.

    It should be British English, or English English. You didn't say America English did you? Then why would you say England English?

    Couldn't resist.
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