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  • Some of the panic over the supposed degradation of English seems to stem from inter-generational incomprehension. Young people grew up with text-speak and soundly made it their own, leaving some of the old guard discomfited (and occasionally outraged) by its growing popularity. I’m generalising, of course; there are many enlightened exceptions, just as there are many young people who wouldn’t dream of sending a text without a ‘necessary’ full stop, and so on.

    There can also be a sort of mean-spirited one-upmanship in knee-jerk grammar gotchas: a way of catching someone out over something petty – something that, as you point out, might have little or nothing to do with grammar. Grammar is often conceived of as a set of unbreakable rules that you break at your peril; many of the best known are but pseudo-rules, stylistic preferences or arbitrary conventions to be imposed on the world at large. Spare us!

  • I agree with Stan. Each and every generation bemoans both the grammar and sartorial stylings of the bunch of drainpipe/flare/Levi 501/low-batty-wearing ragamuffins that follows them. Grammar’s just a useful stick to beat the younger generation with (or “with which to beat the younger generation”, sorry). If grammar is just about “correct” or “incorrect”, it’s not a helpful tool.

    The article’s point about William Labov and his work on non-standard varieties is a good area where grammar can actually be a really useful thing to explore, as are texting and slang. If we look at the grammar of these forms and compare them to standard English, thinking about why they’re different (and often why they’re actually very similar) we can learn a lot about both the standard and the non-standard, and – to some extent – the different generations themselves.

  • The King James Bible is one of our great works of literature, a fine exemplar, is it not? Download a text copy from Project Gutenberg, load it into a word processor and do a search-and-replace of ” with.” with ” with.” This will give you a count of the number of verses (sentences!) in the KJV Bible which end with that preposition.

    Repeat with other prepositions, then with a case-sensitive “And” or “But” as a whole word only. (Note well the location of the spaces in these examples.)

    I leave it to some more ingenious person to devise an automated search for split infinitives.

    Oh look, Project Gutenberg has the complete works of Shakespeare as well . . .

    Store the counts for the next time that some empty-headed parrot, replete with rote-learned rules impinges on your space!

  • Thanks for your suggestion, Peter: an excellent idea. It’s well known (at least among people who make an effort to understand how language really works) that almost all the supposedly degenerate usages which the purists get so upset about can be found in the great works of English literature.
    Using our corpus software, we can search for this sequence:
    TO + .*ly – adverb + verb
    and this produces a ‘concordance’ consisting mainly (about 90%) of split infinitives. In the British National Corpus (of 100 million words) there are about 2500 instances of these, but I haven’t had time yet to look at the sources. As you would expect, some are a bit clunky and would have been better avoided, others read well (and any effort to avoid a split infinitive would have made them worse). So the ‘rule’ is completely irrelevant.

  • How very timely the article on “Where Has Grammar Been Hiding all These Years” was. As a literacy instructor teaching mostly EAL students I am noticing the changing face of literacy as defined by academia. Many of my students are very well versed with today’s modern technology and use it within their own cultural and community groups. Multi-literacies must start to be recognized as a valid and legitimate form of language evolution.

  • Thank you, Ron. I expect code-switching has been going on since Neolithic times at least, but you’re right that new technology has quickened the pace at which new codes emerge. I like the idea of ‘multi-literacies’ – perhaps you would like to submit this as an entry to the Open Dictionary – we could do with it!