Descriptivism, prescriptivism and the evolution of language

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tiyafeh
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Re: Descriptivism, prescriptivism and the evolution of language

Postby tiyafeh » Sun Mar 19, 2017 2:44 am

YtownPolyglot wrote:The "correct" uses of language often preserve distinctions that are lost on some speakers. If enough people are perfectly happy without those distinctions, the language evolves in a direction of simplicity rather than precision.


I would question the premise that language is destined to become simpler over time, and that language evolution can only remove distinctions. I doubt this is what you were implying, but many people do seem to think that if we allow language to change it will eventually devolve into nothing more than a series of incoherent grunts.

As a counterexample, Latin had just two second-person subject pronouns (one singular, one plural), but modern European Spanish has five, gaining a formal/informal distinction in both singular and plural as well as a masculine/feminine distinction in the informal plural.

Many dialects of spoken Arabic have developed a progressive aspect for verbs which is largely absent in MSA. English has done the same over the past millennium or so.

Another rather curious example: in formal Hebrew, the exist multiple translations for the verb "to wear" depending on the item of clothing, so a shirt, hat, necklace, socks, shoes, and glasses would each get a different verb. In popular speech this distinction has been lost for many (perhaps most) speakers.
However, and this is where it gets interesting, all these different verbs are the same whether you're describing the act of putting on said item of clothing or describing the state of wearing it. On the other hand, whilst popular speech has lost the distinction in verbs for different types of clothing, it has gained a new distinction between "putting on" and "having on" said clothing. This innovation has not entered the standard language yet, and is largely viewed as "incorrect" or "uneducated" (despite not being limited to any particular social class).

So clearly, although some distinctions may be lost, it's not that unusual for others to be created.
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Re: Descriptivism, prescriptivism and the evolution of language

Postby Cainntear » Sun Mar 19, 2017 11:26 am

YtownPolyglot wrote:The "correct" uses of language often preserve distinctions that are lost on some speakers. If enough people are perfectly happy without those distinctions, the language evolves in a direction of simplicity rather than precision.

I'm not convinced. What is less "precise" about say "there's three of us" instead of "there are three of us"; "the person I gave it to" instead of "the person to whom I gave it"; or "me and her went there" instead of "she and I went there"?

Very few (if any) of the old-school prescriptivist distinctions result in any additional information being conveyed in the message in comparison to their natural colloquial equivalents.
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aokoye
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Re: Descriptivism, prescriptivism and the evolution of language

Postby aokoye » Sun Mar 19, 2017 1:57 pm

YtownPolyglot wrote:The "correct" uses of language often preserve distinctions that are lost on some speakers. If enough people are perfectly happy without those distinctions, the language evolves in a direction of simplicity rather than precision.

If I remember correctly this is the case with phonological change (though just because one aspect because simpler sometimes means that it comes at the expense of making another thing more complex) but not always the case with other language change.
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