Language myths – who cares?

I’m reading (partly re-reading) the book Language Myths, edited by Laurie Bauer and Peter Trudgill, published in 1998. It includes 21 pieces by well-known linguists such as James and Lesley Milroy, Jenny Cheshire, Dennis Preston, John Algeo (apologies to the others for not mentioning them as well), who one after the other set out to debunk long-standing myths such as “French is a logical language”  (Anthony Lodge) and “Women talk too much” (Janet Holmes).

The Introduction reads that “linguists have not been good about informing the general public about language” (p. xv), and on the cover we can see a blurb by David Crystal (who did not write any of the pieces in the book) saying that the book is “Essential reading for anyone concerned with the nature of language”.

My question, while reading the book, is whether the book succeeded in “informing the general public” about these myths being without any grain of truth, in other words, whether they succeeded in killing the myths or whether, as is in their nature, the myths simply continue to be what they are. This has been my own experience when I tried to kill the myth that Lowth wrote his grammar as a bishop. I can usually tell if people did or did not read The Bishop’s Grammar (2011) by the way they refer to Lowth in their own subsequent publications.

My impression is that Language Myths is read only by linguists, for why should the general public want to be told that Italian is not beautiful (Howard Giles and Nancy Niedzielski) or that bad grammar is not slovenly (Lesley Milroy) when this is how they it? Why should the general public want to listen to linguists? Recently, I had a discussion with someone about the “new” use of singular they as believed to be advocated by LGTB activists. My telling her that singular they has been around since the age of Chaucer fell on deaf ears. And why should it have done otherwise since it is something she finds she is bothered by? So shouldn’t linguists, instead of “informing the general public about language” engage into a discussion with the general public about why they feel the way they do about these thing? Talking with instead of at them, as the book seems to do?

So I thought: lets have another poll about this question. Please let me know what you think! I’d really like to know. (And please note that by the term linguist I don’t mean somebody who knows many languages!) Feel free to leave comments as well.

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2 Responses to Language myths – who cares?

  1. Florence Verbeek says:

    On the subject of singular they:

    I often hear Mary Berry use it when judging the technical challenge in The Great British Bakeoff. Unfortunately I can’t give any examples at the top of my head.

  2. Lazy Linguist says:

    Um, can you add “I bought the book long ago [or got it in return for MSS reviewing”] because I’m a linguist and am interested in the topic, but haven’t read it because I am lazy and disorganized”?!

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