Grassroots Prescriptivism

Yesterday, Morana Lukač defended her PhD thesis called Grassroots Prescriptivism at the University of Leiden. This was the second of the PhD defences from the Bridging the Unbridgeable project. Morana did extremely well, and the committee was most pleased about her performance. So on behalf of the entire project, congratulations, Dr Lukač!

We wish you the best of luck with your future career.

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Special issue of English Today (34/4)

Just out: our special issue of English Today,  with papers from Carmen Ebner, Lyda Fens-de Zeeuw, Viktorija Kostadinova, Morana Lukač, Robin Straaijer, myself and, as our very special guest, Rebecca Gowers. The issue (34/4) presents the papers we gave at the Life without HUGE? conference at Leiden, on 9 December 2016, which formally closed the Bridging the Unbridgeable project. Top articles cited (or tweeted about) at the moment are those by Carmen (8) and Morana (4). Keep following us: the project may be officially finished, but our work hasn’t.

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Ain’t is a chav word, innit?

Ain’t is a chav word, innit?”


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British or American – or doesn’t it matter?

I’d never have thought I would read a Young Adult novel, but I did, and here is why.

At ICEHL-20, two months ago in Edinburgh, Jane Hodson presented a paper in the course of which she referred to The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (2008). She discussed how the protagonist uses chav-like language, and that a particular issue in his language use was ain’t, which was at first criticised and later formally considered acceptable (given sanction posthumously by his mother).

To me, ain’t didn’t seem to match the notion of chav-speak, the reason being that ain’t has become iconic of the linguistic controversy that arose upon the publication of Webster’s Third in 1961 because it included this much stigmatised verb form. In the US, that is. For the UK, and chavs in particular, the stigmatised verb would have been innit instead.

Looking up Patrick Ness in Wikipedia, I discovered that he was an American by birth (though naturalised British later in life), and this seemed to confirm my original impression.

When I asked Jane about it,  particularly in connection with her argument that we as readers bring along a certain amount of sociolinguistic knowledge when reading, she was surprised, saying that she hadn’t realised this when she read the novel. So I decided to read the novel myself, also because I was curious to see why ain’t had been singled out the way it had.

The novel is situated on another planet, so the setting itself doesn’t actually matter. But the language I would say is largely American: their are swamps inhabited by crocs, the girl in novel lost her ma and pa, there are barns and so on, all to my mind American usages. In the Bridging the Unbridgeable project, we’ve looked at different attitudes to British and American usage problems, and to different approaches to usage by British and American usage guide writers. And we found that there are indeed major differences, on the acceptability of have went, for instance, which is a usage problem in American English but only a dialectal variant in the British tradition. Hence my surprise.

But perhaps it is becoming less relevant, as Jane hadn’t noticed it, and perhaps most other readers haven’t either. My (library) copy cites reviews from the Sunday Telegraph, the Guardian, The Times, the Independent  and many more, and the book was published in London. I wonder if any of the reviewers picked up the language notion that I identified, whether as problematical or not. I haven’t read any of the reviews, so I don’t know, but I’d be very curious to hear what readers of this blog think!

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Soon to be defended at Leiden: Morana Lukač’s thesis Grassroots Prescriptivism

The University of Leiden posted the announcement today, and the actual event will be on 22 November. Exciting times for Morana as well as for ourselves as her (former) project members.

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Fowler in the OED at last!

I’ve been at it at least since 2011, but Fowler has finally been given an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. And not just as a noun (n2, to be precise), but the adjectives Fowlereque and Fowlerian are included as well (all of them have been there since Sepetember 2017 already). That just leaves Fowlerish, but then I suppose you can’t have it all. This in any case calls for celebration: great job, OED!

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Yesss, I got cited! – twice

English Today has offered us a forum for getting feedback for our research between January 2014 and December 2016, with a postscript in the second issue of 2017. Since about the start of our interactive feature, ET linked up with Altmetric, an online tool that measures citation of publications.

Checking our various features, I did indeed find a score for one of the brief articles we wrote, and it happened to be my own, from the final volume of 2016. This is what it looks like:Clicking on the small badge showed that the article was retweeted twice, so this suggests (I suppose) that only online references are counted by the tool. Still, it will be interesting to see if more of our work comes to be cited, in tweets, blogs or elswhere. And we’ll definiely keep an eye out for when our special English Today issue appears in December (2018, 34/4).

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