Thursday, December 17, 2009

Language Insanity week in the media?

Maybe I'm the crazy one here, but the language-in-the-news stuff seems a little weird this week. Check out these links:

Exhibit A: A new grammar book aims to draw up joint rules for Spanish, spoken by some 500 million people around the globe. (OK, BBC, so maybe doesn't count.)

Exhibit B: Linguists Unite Against English Invasion (this report from Turkey).

Exhibit C is a different animal, not insanity, but rather some responses by a linguist to some somewhat offbeat questions about language.

I could write pages about each of these but I'd rather read reader comments on them: What do you make of these stories?

Image from


John Cowan said...

Exhibit A: If you ignore the misleading headline, it's clear that what's happened is that the RAE has updated its (descriptive) reference grammar of Spanish to handle American Spanish as well. Considering that the last edition came out more than 70 years ago, it's obviously overdue.

Exhibit B: There seems to be a considerable conflation of heavy borrowing, bilingualism, and language shift here, as if one led inevitably to the others. The history of English itself deflates such claims: it is the heavy-borrowing language par excellence, and yet somehow England never language-shifted to French (or Latin or Greek).

I haven't read Exhibit C yet.

Vance Maverick said...

From A: But until now grammar rules in nations outside Spain had been never acknowledged, said Mexican linguist Rocio Mandujano.

"We know now that we are not speaking poorly. It's only a different grammar[.]"

I like how they paraphrase her "different grammar" into an alternative English grammar. This somewhat saner AP version translates her more conventionally.

B is not about Turkey, but Switzerland and neighboring countries. It's also incompetently written (in particular, we're not given any handle on whether there's a real problem, let alone whether these "linguists" can help).

In C, I was going to mock some of the questions, but then I got to this answer:

However, there exists an important activity which clearly shows that even though the ways languages grasp the world may vary widely from one language to another, they all build, in fact, the same contents, and equivalent conceptions of the world. This activity is translation. Any text in any language can be translated into a text in another language. These two texts express the same meaning. We can therefore conclude that despite the differences between the ways languages grasp the world, all languages are easily convertible into one another, because humans interpret the world along the same, or comparable, semantic lines.

I'm as skeptical as the next guy of strong claims of linguistic relativity -- but this just begs the question.

(There's lots more after that, but my appetite for it is less.)