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  1. #1
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    E. grammar rules, worldwide?

    India, as you know, is the largets community of English speaking people. There are more people speaking English in India than there are in Britain, America, Canada and Australia put together. And the population in India is the world's largest, and still growing. English and Hindi have been mingling together for centuries now, just like English and French did after the Norman Conquest 1066.

    This fact makes me wonder about the way we teach "grammar rules" to our foreign students. If one billion people find it normal to say "are you liking your present?", what right do we have to say it's wrong? Grammar is but an attempt to organize our thoughts and words, to find order in what we say. Grammar came after language itself, not before it. So, if the majority's rule applies - if most people say the same thing - then the majority must be right.


    Many native speakers of English, among whom teachers, often say: "If it wasn't for you, I would ...", or "I didn't have no regard whatsoever for that man", paying little regard to whether it is "were" or to the erroneous use of double negation which would make linguists start to cry. Americans use less and less the present perfect. Questions like "Did you already see this movie?" are not unusual. Such instances of offbeat English grammar are many.

    * So, who makes the rules of grammar?

    * Will there be a worldwide English language or a medley of English "languages" such as Hinglish (Hindi+English), "Chinglish" (Chinese + English), American English and so on, with their own cultural particularities?

    * Will there always be the "majority principle" that will decide the future of the English language, or will there be other social / economic / political / ideological factors and so on, more or less influential in this respect?
    Last edited by bianca; 28-Jul-2007 at 15:04.

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    Re: E. grammar rules, worldwide?

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca View Post
    India, as you know, is the largets community of English speaking people. There are more people speaking English in India than there are in Britain, America, Canada and Australia put together.
    Well, I for one didn't know that. Could you provide your source?

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    If one billion people find it normal to say "are you liking your present?", what right do we have to say it's wrong?
    It's not "wrong"; it's just not the Standard. The other day I asked a colleague, new to the school, "How are you liking the job so far?"

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    Grammar is but an attempt to organize our thoughts and words, to find order in what we say.
    Exactly. Grammar is tied to meaning. Get the grammar wrong and the meaning you intended to express also changes.

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    Gramm[a]r came after language itself, not before it.
    Grammar is language. It doesn't come before or after language. Unless, that is, you're referring to prescribed grammar, then yes, certain rules, especially the ones based on Latin grammar, came before--were planted in the past--and so don't reflect modern usage.

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    So, if the majority's rule applies - if most people say the same thing - then the majority must be right.
    There has to be a point, though, from which all variants stem; e.g. in India, there is an India standard that stems from the British standard; in Canada, there's a Canadian standard that stems from both British and American standards, and it houses its own particular norms. Together, all the standards stem from a Standard, the point from which all variants originate. History tells us that without a Standard, variants eventually become new languages. There is a Standand for English, but the question isn't, which dialect is it?

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    Many native speakers of English, among whom teachers, often say: "If it wasn't for you, I would ...", or "I didn't have no regard whatsoever for that man", paying little regard to whether it is "were" or to the erroneous use of double negation which would make linguists start to cry.
    Linguists probably cry, true, but not about language usage. (I believe you mean prescriptivists, not "linguists" as a whole.) Actually, the way in which language is used by its speakers betrays its inner-workings, its grammar, and that's a good thing to linguistics who want to gain a better undestanding of how grammar works. As for people who follow tradition, well, the same can be said about most things in life. Change is unwelcome in most if not all cultures. History tells us that if the new generation want change, they have to make that change themselves, and that it takes time, and effort. A case in point, most textbooks these days aren't written from a presciptivist's stance. Aha! Change is happening.

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    Americans use less and less the present perfect. Questions like "Did you already see this movie?" are not unusual. Such instances of offbeat English grammar are many.
    Again, dialects will differ slightly; moreover, not all Americans have forgotten how to use the present perfect. It's an example of language in flux, that's all. One dialect doesn't represent the Standard.

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    * So, who makes the rules of grammar?
    It's speakers. This isn't a chicken and the egg problem. We learn language from our language providers, parents, teachers, friends, and we learn that there is more than one way to use the grammar to express oneself, but that all variants stem from one common origin. It's in knowing that common origin, the Standard grammatical rules--not Latin based rules, that allows us to change as well as interpret the rules in a creative and new way.
    English, if it's a tool for international communication, doesn't belong to a single nation.

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    * Will there be a worldwide English language or a medley of English "languages" such as Hinglish (Hindi+English), "Chinglish" (Chinese + English), American English and so on, with their own cultural particularities?
    Both types, a standard and the Standard, as is the case today.

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    * Will there always be the "majority principle" that will decide the future of the English language, or will there be other social / economic / political / ideological factors and so on, more or less influential in this respect?
    The majority principle is already based on social, economical, political, and ideaological factors. Major rules is just another way of saying affluence dictates. Change the equation.

  3. #3
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    Re: E. grammar rules, worldwide?

    Quote Originally Posted by Casiopea View Post

    1. The majority principle is already based on social, economical, political, and ideaological factors. Major rules is just another way of saying affluence dictates. Change the equation.

    I cannot see how the majority is already based on social, economic, political, ideological factors, as you claim. Could you examplify this? What I can see is how the majority must conform to the standard, but this doesn't make it theirs. I mentioned in some thread that there is considerable social, political, ideological pressure on people worldwide to conform to the standard. People can have trouble getting jobs, get poorer marks in school, etc. all because they speak a different dialect, and people are judged harshly because of their speech. But English as lingua franqua is slowly becoming decentralized. You mentioned above that: "English, if it's a tool for international communication, doesn't belong to a single nation." This is called decentralization.
    So, who's going to set the rules of a standard English in the long run?


    2. You wrote that: "all variants (of grammar) stem from one common origin. It's in knowing that common origin, the Standard grammatical rules--not Latin based rules, that allows us to change as well as interpret the rules in a creative and new way."

    At one point you mean to say that language dialects stem from the same origin or the standard, at another point from the speakers. How did a standard language come into being? Through regulation and manipulation of the spoken language. After the civil war in the US - to give you an example - language rules were inforced in the whole of the US to make English an "American" property. It was a political decision. English became a language that divided two nations. Likewise, the British language has been changed in a piecemeal way after major revolutions throughout the British history (I believe that G. Chaucer was among the first who contributed to the establishment of the Oxford English Dictionary, which set rules for what was standard. But OED as an international word-authority is losing ground.) Written language conforms to standard more than the spoken English does.



    3. As to your question about India being the largest community of English speaking people, it is well-known that English is one of the main languages in India and India's population has long exceeded 1 billion people. I thought it was a well-known fact. Massmedia is a good informer...
    But I googled on Indian Englsih and found this site: Lingua Franca - 19/02/2005: Indian English
    Last edited by bianca; 28-Jul-2007 at 16:52.

  4. #4
    Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim is offline Senior Member
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    Re: E. grammar rules, worldwide?

    There are more people who speak Chinese (Mandarin) than English. Does this make Mandarin more powerful than English? A language or a version of a language becomes more powerful if the people (the country) who speak it are politically, militarily and economically more powerful. This makes American English (not Indian English) the model.
    Last edited by Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim; 28-Jul-2007 at 16:58.

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    Re: E. grammar rules, worldwide?

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca View Post
    I cannot see how the majority is already based on social, economic, political, ideological factors, as you claim. Could you examplify this?
    Of course. They all have an effect on how language is used, right? Wouldn't you agree? After all, that is your argument here, that the majority in India use e.g., "liking", so therefore it should be the standard, which, by the way, it is, in India for a certain group of speakers.

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    What I can see is how the majority must conform to the standard, but this doesn't make it theirs.
    English as a tool for international communciation doesn't belong to any one nation, whereas English spoken as a first language belongs to its community of speakers. There is a difference there.

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    I mentioned in some thread that there is considerable social, political, ideological pressure on people worldwide to conform to the standard.
    Conform to what standard? Could you explain?

    Quote Originally Posted by biancs
    People can have trouble getting jobs, get poorer marks in school, etc. all because they speak a different dialect, and people are judged harshly because of their speech.
    The same holds true in the West. Native speakers are under the very same pressures.

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    But English as lingua franqua is slowly becoming decentralized. You mentioned above that: "English, if it's a tool for international communication, doesn't belong to a single nation." This is called decentralization. So, who's going to set the rules of a standard English in the long run?
    Its speakers.

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    2. You wrote that: "all variants (of grammar) stem from one common origin. It's in knowing that common origin, the Standard grammatical rules--not Latin based rules, that allows us to change as well as interpret the rules in a creative and new way." At one point you mean to say that language dialects stem fromn the standard, at another point from the speakers. How did a standard language come into being?
    We are our language. There isn't a chicken and egg puzzle here to work out.

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    Through regulation and manipulation of the spoken language. After the civil war in the US - to give you an example - language rules were inforced in the whole of the US to make English an "American" property. It was a political decision. English became a language that divided two nations.
    Well, there, you see, you have examples after all for affluence dictates. And here's another examples:
    Likewise, the British language has been changed in a piecemeal way after major revolutions throughout the British history after the Norman invasion (I believe that G. Chaucer, among others, contributed much to the establishment of the British Englsih dictionary). Written language conforms to standard more than the spoken English does.

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca
    3. As to your question about India being the largest community of English speaking people, I simply thought it was a well-known fact. Massmedia is a good informer... But I googled on Indian Englsih and found this site: Lingua Franca - 19/02/2005: Indian English
    And ... what did it say?

  6. #6
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    Re: E. grammar rules, worldwide?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim View Post
    There are more people who speak Chinese (Mandarin) than English. Does this make Mandarin more powerful than English? A language or a version of a language becomes more powerful if the people (the country) who speak it are politically, militarily and economically more powerful. This makes American English the model.
    So, in other words political factors are still decisive for the future of English - it is just the way it has always been, historically. But, I remember that you mentioned once that you believed in the "dictatorship of the majority". Did I miss anything?

  7. #7
    Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim is offline Senior Member
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    Re: E. grammar rules, worldwide?

    Quote Originally Posted by bianca View Post
    But, I remember that you mentioned once that you believed in the "dictatorship of the majority". Did I miss anything?
    No, you didn't Bianca but I always meant the dictatorship of the majority within a country. Internationally speaking it is the dictatorship of the most powerful country. Political, social, economic and literary factors are always at work. You can likewise ask why Standard British English is based on the dialect of the south? The answer is the British Royal Family. So even within a country one version will dominate first. The situation hower will change later. Now other varieties are accepted side by side on BBC. People and countries lose power so standard English changes accordingly. The Royal Family have no say any more. This was the same with English replacing French in Britian. When the more powerul lost their power Chaucer was possible. BTW this messy mergence of languages which led to the birth of English made a man like Shakespeare possible. The majority will regain the power they lost to a minority in the end.

    True English is an international property. This is unique in human history. However, this creates the problem of Native Speaker and Linguistic Identity. This was btw part of my refelctions in: Linguistic Predictions and Rosemary's Baby
    Last edited by Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim; 28-Jul-2007 at 17:36.

  8. #8
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    Re: E. grammar rules, worldwide?

    Casiopea, I'd like to comment on your previous statement: "History tells us that without a Standard, variants eventually become new languages."
    Please, feel free to disagree with me.

    As you know, ethnic languages are genealogically related, that means they all stem from a standard. So, unless you're talking about artificially constructed or planned languages, all languages, dialects, variants and so on stem from an all-including "mother tongue" or origin. Variants become languages when having a culture of their own (you know the aphorism: "A language is a dialect with an army and a navy").

    The North Germanic languages are a living proof of this.

    The Nordic or Scandinavian languages /Danish, Swedish, Norway, Iceland, northern Germany) strem from the same origin, called Old Norse, a large language group whose people understood each other. The Scandinavian languages developed from two dialects of the Old Norse, along with their various dialects and varieties. There are, paradoxically, greater differences in dialects within the countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark than there are across their borders. There is one dialect in Southern Sweden (an isolated community of fishermen) which noone understands in Sweden. This dialect (and some others in northern Sweden as well) has had political freedom and no constraints to conform to the "standard", and has thus been able to preserve its uniqueness and beauty. It is not unlikely that it will gradually develop into a self-contained language taught in schools, apart from the standard. I once said that, as it is now (maybe unlike for 100 years ago), a language's natural aspiration for uniqueness and individuality will always strive to counteract the political constraints of emulating a certain standard. The need for individuality of expression makes models and rules impossible. But it is up to the governments themselves to give free reigns to various dialects to exist untarnished by the mainstream demands and rules.

    So, the standard is not always omnipotent. It can try, but it cannot stop dialects from following their natural course and eventually develop into self-contained languages. It is only a matter of time before this will happen. I believe this is what Jamshid meant when saying "the dictatorship of the majority" - something which was almost impossible centuries ago. History doesn't tell us what the future of a language will be, but sets changes within their time-frame, with all there is to it. And times are a-changing.
    Last edited by bianca; 29-Jul-2007 at 12:06.

  9. #9
    Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim is offline Senior Member
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    Re: E. grammar rules, worldwide?

    Before Casiopea answers I would like to say Bianca that it is not always easy to draw a clearcut line when a dialect is a language in its own right. A standard language can slow down further drifting of dialects as with Arabic (religion is at work here).Two statements in you post are to my liking:

    1. A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.
    2. A language's natural aspiration for uniqueness and individuality will always strive to counteract the political constraints of emulating a certain standard.

    Nowegian is a good example with Bokmål ("Book language", Dano-Norwegian) and Nynorsk (New Norwegian). Two standard languages live side by side in one small (not in size) country. This matter hasn't been resolved so far. Bianca Some time ago I learned some Norwegain at the university. I still undersdtand a bit. I can imagine the differences within North-Germanic languages (or dialects). I could use Norwegian in Denmark a bit.

  10. #10
    bianca is offline Senior Member
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    Re: E. grammar rules, worldwide?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dr. Jamshid Ibrahim View Post
    I can imagine the differences within North-Germanic languages (or dialects). I could use Norwegian in Denmark a bit.
    They say that Swedish is Norwegian spoken by the Danish.
    Norwegian could be called a Swedish dialect, but it was politically decided that it should be called Norwegian. Sweden and Norway were one nation until 1905. Differences between dialects within Sweden are sometimes greater than differences between Swedish and Norwegian. These dialects have their own linguistic traits and cultural flavour as distinguished from the standard Swedish which, by and large, is Stockholm-Swedish. And look at Jugoslavia: until the Revolution, there was one language (Jugoslavian) with different dialects. Ever since the country became divided, the evolving small countries gained their independence which included having a language of their own. The former dialects thus became regular languages, which are quite similar to one another despite their regional particularities.
    Last edited by bianca; 29-Jul-2007 at 14:59.

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