Conceptions of Language

V.J. Cook, Newcastle University

NB: ‘linguist’ is OED sense 3: ‘An expert in or student of language or (later) linguistics’.

1  Non-linguists: grammars and dictionaries say what is wrong and condemn it
Linguists:
grammars and dictionaries are neutral descriptions, neither condemning nor praising particular aspects of language

Non-linguists: grammatical rules are established by authority, opinion and tradition
Linguists: grammatical rules are established from insight and concrete evidence

3  Non-linguists: educated people obey the rules of language, primarily grammar and spelling
Linguists:
language rules are attempts to describe what occurs, not edicts from an authority

4  Non-linguists: my language is better, more logical and more beautiful than any other
Linguists:
no language is better or worse than any other in any objective way

Non-linguists: dialects are inferior to the standard language
Linguists:
dialects are linguistically equal but associated with social ideas of class and region

Non-linguists: a standard accent is the pure form of the language from which other accents deviate
Linguists:
a standard accent is usually spoken by a status group and is linguistically equivalent to any other accent, apart from social connotations

7  Non-linguists: each country has its own language
Linguists: languages can nowadays rarely be identified with countries, apart from their historical country of origin

8  Non-linguists: language today is worse than some earlier state: any change is wrong and must be resisted
Linguists: language change is inevitable and unstoppable except in trivial ways

9 Non-linguists: disputes over word meanings can be resolved by appealing to their historical origin
Linguists:
the etymology of words has little to do with their meaning today

10 Non-linguists: written language is the standard form
Linguists (most):
spoken language is the basis for written language

11 Non-linguists: the type of writing I learnt as a child is the best
Linguists (some):
there are many successful writing systems for human language

12 Non-linguists: making spelling mistakes in English like ‘they’re/their/there’shows your lack of education and intelligence
Linguists:
spelling is far more than mastering a small set of confusable items and is a poor indicator of personal accomplishment

13 Non-linguists: grammar is about not breaking the traditional school rules by, say, splitting infinitives, ‘to boldly go’
Linguists: grammar is a complex system for communicating meaning through word order, word forms, phrase structure, agreement etc

14 Non-linguists: a normal human being speaks one language
Linguists:
probably most people in the world today use more than one language

15 Non-linguists: knowing two languages is bad for you
Linguists:
knowing other languages has a range of benefits - social, financial, cognitive, health …

16 Non-linguists: conversing in two languages when someone present doesn’t know one of them is extremely rude
Linguists:
bilinguals talking to each other often code-switch between their languages in conversations for diverse reasons, seldom rudeness

17 Non-linguists: children’s acquisition of language depends on their parents deliberately talking to them in particular ways
Linguists:
nearly all children successfully pick up language by interacting naturally with their caretakers

18 Non-linguists: babytalk is bad for children
Linguists:
babytalk is a natural early stage of language acquisition in children

19. Non-linguists: there is only one sign language used by the deaf
Linguists: there are many sign languages used by the Deaf in different countries, each with its own rules and dialects

20 Non-linguists: the best language teachers are native speakers as they are role models of how to speak the language
Linguists (some): the best language teachers are non-native speakers as they are role models of what the students can become
What's in a word? Popular ideas of language
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