When in doubt about questions of usage, I do as I suppose most other people do as well: I google it. That is only, however, the starting point of most internet searches. What I wanted to find out when I launched a survey on online usage sources in December last year on our website is what online sources on usage are (perceived as) the most popular, reliable and user-friendly.
In our latest feature in English Today I discuss the results of my survey and attempt to answer the question of who the language authorities are in the age of Web 2.0 and how the preference for particular online sources correlates with the participants’ age, occupation or with them being native speakers of English.
Many traditional sources on usage have adapted their format and extended their presence to the online medium, prime examples being style guides of media houses and online dictionaries. New language authorities, however, also emerged and entered the usage advice market. Some of them are written by individual authors – internet “grammar celebrities” – whereas others are products of collaboration and discussions led among lay people and language professionals.
One of the questions arising from the results of the survey is: who is, both online and offline, considered to be a language authority today. If you’d like to join the discussion on this topic choose one of the general categories below or add your own!
Hi Morana, After reading Anne Curzan’s chapter on Word’s grammar checker (Fixing English: Prescriptivism and Language History, Cambridge University Press, 2014), I was recently looking at online English grammar checkers, of which there are many, and noticed that none of them were/was from “established” publishing houses. So, last night I was talking to a friend of mine, who just happens to be director of digital ELT publishing for a major UK organisation, and he says that they don’t have one because they simply can’t make it good enough, and he doesn’t see it happening any time soon. It does make you wonder about the ones that are out there!
Thank you, Adrian, for your very interesting comment! Just as Curzan argues, the rules these checkers enforce are often not transparent to begin with. And the question arises as to how sophisticated they are in recognising context and differentiating between stylistic choices (not very). On the other hand, they are extremely popular! Grammarly is strongly advertised online — now even in YouTube commercials. More critical commentary is still necessary to make people aware of the pitfalls and limitations of such software.