Matthijs Smits sent us a link containing a discussion in the New York Times Online between American usage expert Bryan Garner and Economist journalist Robert Greene. The interview deals with the usual descriptivism/prescriptivism question, and by way of an illustration the question is raised and discussed as the the problem of when to use that or which. Matthijs, who wrote his MA thesis on Garner’s prescriptions in relation to actual usage, considers the discussion well worth reading, and notes that, with 473 comments (!), he is by no means the only one to enjoy the polemics.
Join the discussion on this blog!
(Thanks for the link, Matthijs!)
Matthijs: I’m writing a master’s thesis on edited usage and would love to read your thesis. Could you please let me know how to get hold of a copy? Thanks.
Jonathon, how very interesting, many thanks for getting in touch. Is what you are studying for your thesis of interest to our blog? We’d very much like to hear more about it, the kind of texts you are analysing, for instance, what methodology you apply. I’ve had a look at your own blog as well: how long has it been running?
I think it might be of interest. I’ve got about two dozen edited manuscripts and am looking at the kinds of usage and grammar changes that editors make. The texts are all academic papers (mostly literature) edited by student editing interns at my university’s Faculty Editing Service, and I then had some volunteers edit the same papers to see if they edited the same way as the interns.
I’ve basically just tallied up all the different changes and grouped them into different categories where it seems like there’s some cohesion—spelling, genitives, relativizers, and so on. Next I’ll see how the types and frequencies of changes stack up against research on reader perception of error (Hairston, Connors and Lunsford, etc.) to see if editors are focusing their efforts where they will best serve readers.
I’ll also talk about the whole process of editing for usage and grammar in the framework of language standardization to see what role copy editors play in selecting and codifying forms.
I’ve been blogging for about six years now, but I was a pretty sporadic blogger until about a year or so ago.