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  1. #11
    MrPedantic is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: "Decay" in aspects of English grammar

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Antonson View Post
    Maybe "abandonment" would have worked as well.
    Though "abandonment" might imply that actions have collectively been performed upon the language.

    Would "change" be too mild a term to discuss?

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Antonson View Post
    Perhaps the most profitable example of what I am wondering about is what has happened to the second person pronoun in English, as compared to, say, for example, in Spanish -- or almost any other language. (I believe that Swedish, however, has also experienced the kind of "decay" that appears to have happened in English.)
    Suppose for the sake of argument that ordinary evolutionary processes apply in language as they do in e.g. the development of anatomical features (which is admittedly a large assumption).

    Since the 2.s./2.pl. distinction in English maintained itself for a significant period, we might then say:

    1. The development of the distinction was at least not disadvantageous to its users, for a certain period, under the prevailing conditions.

    Further questions then might be:

    2. What were the conditions under which the distinction flourished, and what were the conditions under which it disappeared?

    3. Given that the distinction has now been absent for at least two centuries, can we say that its disappearance has been at least not disadvantageous to users?

    Best wishes,

    MrP

    Not a professional ESL teacher.

  2. #12
    5jj's Avatar
    5jj is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: "Decay" in aspects of English grammar

    I just want to go back to a previous question:
    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Antonson View Post
    does it [= English] have the same GRAMMATICAL ability to deal with nuances as other languages do?
    I see a potential problem with 'grammatical ability'.

    Frank mentioned Shakepeare's, "I will be heard. And shall." It is clear that most native speakers today cannot express this precise idea using modal verbs exclusively. But they can express the precise idea using other words.

    Are we to say we have lost a grammatical ability when the alternative is grammatically expressed?

    Another thought. The German "Ich wre dankbar" is used often to express the same idea as the English "I would be grateful". Modern German uses a subjunctive; modern English uses a modal verb. Does English, which has 'lost' the subjunctive here have the same grammatical ability as German?

    These may seem to be hair-splitting questions but, unless we are discussing the same idea, then there may be some confusion.

  3. #13
    MrPedantic is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: "Decay" in aspects of English grammar

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    Another thought. The German "Ich wre dankbar" is used often to express the same idea as the English "I would be grateful". Modern German uses a subjunctive; modern English uses a modal verb. Does English, which has 'lost' the subjunctive here have the same grammatical ability as German?
    It seems to me at least possible that if we were able to slice the tops off our two speakers' heads, like boiled eggs, and watch what happened when they uttered their respective phrases, we might find that one set of connections lit up with the German subjunctive (all the contexts and situations in which a subjunctive might be used), and another different set (all the contexts, etc.) with the English modal.

    But while the feeling of uttering a subjunctive or modal verb might differ, each language would nevertheless provide a method of dealing with "dankbar/grateful" situations.

    MrP

    Not a professional ESL teacher.

  4. #14
    Raymott's Avatar
    Raymott is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: "Decay" in aspects of English grammar

    It's clear that in English there are some examples of what would appear to be a grammatical deficiency when compared to other languages.
    "You" stands for both singular and plural second person, and can cause confusion.
    "We" does not have an inclusive and exclusive form, which some languages do.
    We - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    We don't have a word at all for "whichth"
    There is no simple correction of the non-sentence, "How to do X".

    But you seem to have asked two questions. The above examples might have nothing to do with 'decay'.

  5. #15
    Frank Antonson's Avatar
    Frank Antonson is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: "Decay" in aspects of English grammar

    With the second person pronoun the deficiency is not only in the singular/plural overlapping but also the loss of levels of formality. I know that some modern-day German exchange students are quite uncomfortable addressing a teacher as "you". And yet "You, sir" doesn't do the job either. I believe that in Spanish and Portuguese there are at least three levels of formality -- "tu", "Usted", and "el seor". Each, of course, has its singular and plural.

  6. #16
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: "Decay" in aspects of English grammar

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Antonson View Post
    I believe that in Spanish and Portuguese there are at least three levels of formality -- "tu", "Usted", and "el seor". Each, of course, has its singular and plural.
    But in Brazil, the Portuguese version of "usted", "voc", is replacing "tu", which leaves the speakers with two levels.

  7. #17
    orangutan is offline Member
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    Default Re: "Decay" in aspects of English grammar

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    It's clear that in English there are some examples of what would appear to be a grammatical deficiency when compared to other languages.
    "You" stands for both singular and plural second person, and can cause confusion.
    "We" does not have an inclusive and exclusive form, which some languages do.
    We - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    We don't have a word at all for "whichth"
    There is no simple correction of the non-sentence, "How to do X".

    But you seem to have asked two questions. The above examples might have nothing to do with 'decay'.
    Certainly English does not make certain distinctions that some other languages make. And in some cases it has lost these distinctions over time.

    On the other hand, it has quite a rich aspectual system (the bane of German students), is very fussy about definiteness (the bane of Russian students), and distinguishes between comparative and superlative (and gradable and limit adjectives), which not all languages do. In at least some of these cases, the relevant grammatical distinctions have been acquired over time.

    Swings and roundabouts?

  8. #18
    Frank Antonson's Avatar
    Frank Antonson is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: "Decay" in aspects of English grammar

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    But in Brazil, the Portuguese version of "usted", "voc", is replacing "tu", which leaves the speakers with two levels.
    This is true, at least in the Northeast of Brazil. But I suspect that English is not the only language that may possibly be decaying. I mentioned Swedish earlier in this sense.

    A related thought to this, at least in my mind, is the possibility that poetry may be thought of as decaying in the loss of the importance of beat in language. The iambic pentameter of Shakespeare's blank verse, for example, offers a power in language that the unusual word choices and combinations of modern "poetry" can't duplicate.

  9. #19
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    NikkiBarber is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: "Decay" in aspects of English grammar

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Antonson View Post
    This is true, at least in the Northeast of Brazil. But I suspect that English is not the only language that may possibly be decaying. I mentioned Swedish earlier in this sense.
    Are you saying that Swedish also uses the same pronoun for plural or singular 2. person? I didn't know that. I thought there were two different forms, but I might be wrong. I cannot speak Swedish and I am only able to understand it because it is very similar to Danish.

    In my opinion there is no problem labeling a linguistic development decay if it has resulted in a clear loss to the language, as is the case with the 2. person pronoun.
    "You" being the pronoun for plural as well as singular has always confused and bothered me. There really is no acceptable way to make it grammatically clear how many people are included in the word. If "y'all" could be recognized as correct English I would be fine with that. Even though it sounds uneducated it serves to fulfill a need that no other word currently does.
    It doesn't solve the problem when it comes to addressing people politely, but since this practice seems to be disappearing from other languages as well it might just be something that we have to accept.

  10. #20
    Frank Antonson's Avatar
    Frank Antonson is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: "Decay" in aspects of English grammar

    I actually know very little about Swedish, but the little bit that I looked at it made me think that aspects of it were simple, like English. Maybe it was the word "the", which in German has at least 8 or 10 forms, some of which also serve as precise relative pronouns.
    I suppose I should not have mentioned Swedish. It is just that I was surprised to find a simplicity there. At the time that I noticed it, I thought that it might be part of a westward movement in language, but Icelandic destroys that hypothesis.
    As far as the second person plural is concerned, I believe I have written about this elsewhere on this forum. Where I live, the form "you'uns" exists. I like to point out to my students that the waitress who goes to a table of tourists passing through and who says "Are you'uns ready to order?" is being polite. She would never say that if one person were sitting at the table. For saying that, the linguistically unenlightened are liable to think of her condescendingly. The local dialect has not accepted a grammatical decay that has occurred in standard English.
    I would probably not care about this so much if I had never learned to speak Portuguese fluently. Now, if I use the pronoun "you'uns" my own family members disapprove. I use it anyway at times because it is not affected but a genuine attempt to speak precisely. Why not? when I understand the grammar and have it readily available?

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