Friday, June 19, 2015

don't oversimplify the issue

I'm at Dongguk's Seoul campus right now; I've accomplished items 1, 2, and 3 on my to-do list (see previous blog entry), and am taking a quick break before I finish grading my students' finals (I got through half of the load last night before calling it quits).

Saw this BBC article on evolving pronunciation and noticed that it made this unsound claim:

pronunciation is not a matter of right and wrong but merely fashion

First, I'll note that I'd insert an "of" before "fashion" to maintain parallel structure. More important, though, is the content of the claim, which I contend is absolutely incorrect. I'm not even speaking as a prescriptivist, here (which I'm not, as I've written before). Just think about it for moment. Is the author of the article seriously maintaining that there's no right or wrong at all when it comes to pronunciation? If that's so, then I can look at a word spelled T-R-U-C-K and pronounce it "philodendron." What's to stop me? This puts us in the realm of Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty:

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

Change Humpty Dumpty's "use" to "pronounce," change his "mean(s)" to "sound(s)," and you've got this article. To be charitable: the author is likely referring to small variations in pronunciation, but that doesn't absolve him of the sin of making a stupidly over-broad claim about language. Language is an evolving system of agreements, yes, but there's also a right way and a wrong way to go about using it. Otherwise, beautiful words like "To be or not to be" could easily be read as "Smoking banana in ass not utile."



John from Daejeon said...

It isn't only pronunciation as I guess you haven't eaten at Taco Bell recently, coz dem youngsters no care bout some worm et, ole white, English writin dude dat no longer "throws shade" or is "lit" anymore. Now, dat G.R.R. Martin, doe. Are you "on fleek" now?

John (I'm not a robot) said...

People are talking like they text these days.