Cross-cultural Prescriptivism

For his paper at the Cambridge Usage (Guides) Symposium on 26 and 27 June, Robert Ilson would welcome input from the readers of this blog. Elsewhere, he published  what he called a “plaidoyer” for a cross-cultural study of prescriptivism, and in the article he makes a number of detailed suggestions for such a study.

thesis NadiaA little while ago, Nadia Petrova, one of the readers of this blog and a former student of English at the University of Leiden, carried out the kind of analysis that Robert Ilson is interested in for her MA thesis. The thesis is called: “A Comparative Analysis of Russian and English Usage Guides form the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries” (2010). (Readers may indicate their interest in the thesis by commenting on this blog; as a reader herself, Nadia will be able to respond to the comments.)

In her thesis, Nadia focussed on three usage problems that are similar between Russian and English:

  • subject-verb agreement with collective nouns
  • dangling participles
  • the degrees of comparison of adjectives.

So here are three cross-cultural items of the kind that Robert Ilson will be interested in. And another one was recently found by Annemarie Walop (who wrote a blog post last week on prestigeful): it has to do with the tendency in Dutch to start a sentence with maar (“but”). The article Annemarie located is called “Beter: de maar-ziekte”. I haven’t checked, but I imagine that just as with and, you are not supposed to start a sentence with but in English either.

So on behalf of Robert Ilson, and he has promised to acknowledge all help received: what more usage problems are there in other languages that have a parallel with English?

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9 Responses to Cross-cultural Prescriptivism

  1. Flattered to see the front page of my thesis here :)

  2. Alison Gibbs says:

    The two things that most annoy me in present-day English are:
    1. ‘I was stood … ‘ or ‘I was sat …’ rather than ‘I was standing …’ or ‘I was sitting’. Funnily enough ‘I was laid’ doesn’t tend to get used instead of ‘I was lying’. I hear ‘i was stood’ from so many people, including recently from a BBC political correspondent.

    2. ‘Countries like China’. To me, that sounds like the speaker is referring to countries that are similar to China (if such countries exist) rather than taking China as an example. I always correct this to read ‘countries such as China’. Am I overreacting?

    Don’t know whether these are cross-cultural, but they sure annoy me.

  3. Alison Gibbs says:

    One annoying similarity between Dutch and English these days seems to be in the use of ‘literally’, as referred to in your blog, and ‘letterlijk en figuurlijk’ when the speaker actually only means ‘figuurlijk’. The words seem to be used solely to emphasise whatever they surround.

    Another is the use of nonsensical fillers such as ‘bij wijze van spreken’ en ‘soort van’ when whatever the person is referring to is not any sort of something at all. The latter is maybe similar to the annoying teenager habit in English of using ‘like’ (I was like gobsmacked).

  4. Thea van de Graaff says:

    In het Nederlands erger ik me aan: ‘ik irriteer me aan’, en ‘gaat leggen’, ipv ga liggen.

  5. Thea van de Graaff says:

    One of the most annoying Dutch neologisms is: ‘ik irriteer me aan’, instead of ‘ik erger me aan’. One can say: ‘dit irriteert me’, or ‘dit ergergert me’.
    And people in the Rotterdam area say, ‘gaat leggen’ instead of ‘ga liggen’.
    Some people intersperse their stories all the time with sayings such as: ‘ik zal maar zeggen’, but that is better than, ‘uhh’.

  6. I get very irritated by a term often found in the captions of pictures in the field of architecture: “Artist impression of …” whereas this should be “Artist’s impression of …”.

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