Should have / Should had

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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby goofy » Wed Jun 02, 2010 1:44 pm UTC

casiguapa wrote:So I'm not right but neither are you.


Wait, in what way is gmalivuk not right?

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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Jun 02, 2010 1:59 pm UTC

casiguapa wrote:So I'm not right but neither are you.
What wasn't I right about? I know "disorientate" is rather old and in the OED. You're the one who said stupid things like that the other form wasn't. (Yes, I know "assault" is a fairly non-descriptivist stance to take, but I was being facetious there. I only got serious when you started making blatantly false claims about the word.)
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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby Felstaff » Wed Jun 02, 2010 2:14 pm UTC

I should clarify that the OED, as in the physical copy, I own is the Concise OED*. It does not have disorient in it. It does have disorientate. All this does is suggest that disorient/ed is so little-used in British English, it doesn't even merit a place in the most popularist dictionary in the country.

*It's also not particularly concise, is about as thick as my leg, and is from 1973.

I still maintain that people use 'I could care less' the same way they use 'for all intensive purposes'. Mishearing a phrase isn't really an excuse for using it without considering that what you're saying could be construed as nonsensical by English speakers, like Pez sez, who haven't heard the phrase 'I couldn't care less' or 'for all intents and purposes'. Indeed, it took me quite a while at school to wonder what the hell my history teacher was talking about when she kept saying 'Pacifically' instead of 'specifically'.

We were learning about the war in Burma at the time, which heightened confusion.
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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Jun 02, 2010 3:27 pm UTC

Felstaff wrote:disorient/ed is so little-used in British English, it doesn't even merit a place in the most popularist dictionary in the country.
Again, I doubt that,* considering that the bbc website only uses "disorientated" twice as often as "disoriented", compared with a ratio closer to 10:1 for other British vs. American spellings of words. And when I search Google with a site:*.co.uk restriction, "disorientated" is only 1.7 times as common. Compared to about 4 times more common for realised/realized and more than a hundred times more common for colour/color.

* Edit: To clarify, what I doubt is that it's so little-used in British English. I trust you on what is in your dictionary.
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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Thu Jun 03, 2010 2:09 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Pez Dispens3r wrote:surely it should be discouraged by prescriptivists and descriptivits alike?
I don't think those words mean what you think they mean.

While everyone's entitled to their personal aesthetic preferences, descriptive linguistics tends to avoid making any kind of normative claim about language in the first place. So you're by definition being prescriptivist when you say something like "People shouldn't say X".
I suppose it may have helped my case if I'd managed to spell 'descriptivists' correctly, but I don't think I'm misunderstanding the nature of their philosophy. In one of Crystal's books he criticized the use of the "historical present". That is, if you were talking conversationally about a historical topic, you might say, "So Caesar goes to the Senate and says, 'If I catch one of you fuckers looking at my bald spot it's off to the arena for you.'" Crystal says this style is fine, if it's obvious from the context you're not talking about the present, but if you were using it to discuss modern figures such as the Prime Minister, you can confuse your audience about whether you're discussing London in 1971, or London in 2010. The context and style of your speech are at loggerheads, and your audience has to knit their eyebrows trying to keep pace with you. A descriptivist may also criticize someone for using excessively archaic words (like your 'childer' example), for avoiding plain English so as to appear more intelligent, or for being a jargonmonger (my favourite word ever). They might not say you shouldn't do these things, but they might say these are practices to be avoided if one wants to be easily understood.

[On another note, this is the first I'd realized the 'disoriented' spelling even existed. Feels funny to use, but I might try it out in my general speech and see if anyone comments on it.]
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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Jun 03, 2010 2:18 am UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:they might say these are practices to be avoided if one wants to be easily understood.
Well yes, as the conditional makes this more of a simple fact about English speakers than a prescriptive statement about what sort of English is "proper". This is, incidentally, how I generally frame things while teaching English. For example, the reason to reduce the pronunciation of "can" isn't because that's better English in some weird absolute sense, but because if you stress it most speakers will occasionally misunderstand it for being "can't", and you won't be communicating effectively.
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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby goofy » Thu Jun 03, 2010 2:42 am UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:A descriptivist may also criticize someone for using excessively archaic words (like your 'childer' example), for avoiding plain English so as to appear more intelligent, or for being a jargonmonger (my favourite word ever). They might not say you shouldn't do these things, but they might say these are practices to be avoided if one wants to be easily understood.


Everyone is a prescriptivist sometimes. There's nothing wrong with well-informed reasonable advice.

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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Thu Jun 03, 2010 2:57 am UTC

goofy wrote:Everyone is a prescriptivist sometimes. There's nothing wrong with well-informed reasonable advice.
The person dispensing advice does not cease to be a descriptivist and begin to be a prescriptivist the moment they make a recommendation.

gmalivuk wrote:
Pez Dispens3r wrote:they might say these are practices to be avoided if one wants to be easily understood.
Well yes, as the conditional makes this more of a simple fact about English speakers than a prescriptive statement about what sort of English is "proper". This is, incidentally, how I generally frame things while teaching English. For example, the reason to reduce the pronunciation of "can" isn't because that's better English in some weird absolute sense, but because if you stress it most speakers will occasionally misunderstand it for being "can't", and you won't be communicating effectively.
Indeed, and I don't think I was discouraging "I could care less" because it conflicts with some abstract concept of proper English, but rather because it confuses the listener unnecessarily. There is a strong literal meaning to the statement which disagrees with the context of the statement, such that you could well end up doubting your understanding of the context. Maybe he does care, and there's something I'm not understanding? "It ain't nothing" is different because you have to do the mental balancing of cancelling out the negatives before you get, "It is something." Because the literal meaning takes more steps to get than the contextual meaning, it isn't a usage you could take much offense to unless you were being pedantic.

My objections would dissolve if everyone was familiar with the usage, so that that room for misunderstanding was gone, but as it stands I think it still leaves a significant number of people baffled, or at least questioning whether the speaker misspoke.
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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby goofy » Thu Jun 03, 2010 3:02 am UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:The person dispensing advice does not cease to be a descriptivist and begin to be a prescriptivist the moment they make a recommendation.


As I see it, if you're giving advice on how one should use language, then you're being prescriptive. What some people seem to mean by "prescriptivist" is "crazily prescriptive" - that is, giving advice without regard to usage, or making up rules for the sake of making up rules, etc. But there is, I think, such a thing as rational, useful prescriptive advice.

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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Thu Jun 03, 2010 3:23 am UTC

goofy wrote:
Pez Dispens3r wrote:The person dispensing advice does not cease to be a descriptivist and begin to be a prescriptivist the moment they make a recommendation.
As I see it, if you're giving advice on how one should use language, then you're being prescriptive. ymmv
The advice you quoted earlier wasn't about how English should be spoken, but was advice on how best to be understood. For example, a descriptivist would look rather like a prescriptivist if they were teaching business English to non-native speakers. It's not 'tooths', it's 'teeth'. It's not, 'I don't have many money', it's, 'I don't have much money'. The difference is in the approach: a descriptivists recognizes there are several ways the language can be constructed, and some of those constructions are more suited to certain occasions or places than others, where a prescriptivist understands there is only one standard, and anything that doesn't conform is a degradation or, worse, American. Your mileage has nothing to do with it.

EDIT:
goofy wrote:What some people seem to mean by "prescriptivist" is "crazily prescriptive" - that is, giving advice without regard to usage, or making up rules for the sake of making up rules, etc. But there is, I think, such a thing as rational, useful prescriptive advice.
Oh dear, ninja editing. The problem is that you're leaving little room for someone to be a descriptivist. There's not much point in trying to understand all the ways people use the language only to turn around and say, "They're all perfectly valid, and if you can't understand that 'hell' actually means 'he will', or that 'dsf' is a perfectly valid spelling of 'the', then you're a louse and a pedant!" The descriptivist's role is to look at the customs of the language, and explain how some are more useful in some contexts than others.

Besides which, prescriptivists and descriptivists have their own definitions of their practice, and I think you're reading too much into the literal meaning of the words 'prescribe' and 'describe' instead of looking into the philosophies of the two camps.
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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Jun 03, 2010 1:04 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:There's not much point in trying to understand all the ways people use the language only to turn around and say, "They're all perfectly valid, and if you can't understand that 'hell' actually means 'he will', or that 'dsf' is a perfectly valid spelling of 'the', then you're a louse and a pedant!" The descriptivist's role is to look at the customs of the language, and explain how some are more useful in some contexts than others.
Right. There was someone here awhile back (had a lot of 7s in his name, as I recall) who insisted that English had no rules whatsoever, which is patently bullshit. If there's not a single speaker who would understand "dsf" as "the", then according to the rules speakers use to produce and comprehend English, "dsf" doesn't mean "the".

I may have been a bit overzealous before in claiming that descriptivists wouldn't make any normative judgments about language, since yeah, you're right, it is a valid descriptivist stance that a particular usage is empirically more confusing to more people and thus an impediment to communicating with those people.

One way I think of the distinction is that a descriptivist would watch a group of children kicking around a ball on a schoolyard and try to figure out the rules they're using in their play. A prescriptivist would argue that *everyone* needs to play by official FIFA rules or whatever, and would scold the playing children for not having the right number of people on each team or not playing on a regulation-sized pitch or whatever. The descriptivist, on the other hand, would only say that if you want to play in the World Cup, you should use FIFA rules, whereas if you want to play with this group of children, you should learn and abide by whatever rules they're using.
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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby goofy » Thu Jun 03, 2010 2:23 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:Besides which, prescriptivists and descriptivists have their own definitions of their practice, and I think you're reading too much into the literal meaning of the words 'prescribe' and 'describe' instead of looking into the philosophies of the two camps.


I think you're making things too black and white. There are extreme prescriptivists, like Robert Hartwell Fiske, who think a certain usage will always be wrong regardless of actual usage, but there are more reasonable prescriptivists, like John McIntyre and the people who wrote Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, who will explain how some usages are better in some context than others. If we discount the extremists, then there aren't two "camps", there are two ways of talking about language, which are not in opposition, and both of which are useful.

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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Jun 03, 2010 4:30 pm UTC

See, I'd personally put the MWDEU firmly in a descriptivist camp, since they primarily go through and describe how a word or expression is actually used in practice.
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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby goofy » Thu Jun 03, 2010 4:42 pm UTC

But they often end each entry with a recommendation. The difference between their advice and the advice of the extreme prescriptivist is that their advice is backed up with evidence and is not always a harsh "X is right, Y is wrong" stance (altho it sometimes is). But it's still advice.

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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Jun 03, 2010 4:49 pm UTC

goofy wrote:But it's still advice.
It's advice in the sense we've already talked about for descriptivist advice: "*If* you want to communicate clearly, do X" or "*If* you're writing in a formal or academic situation, do X". (This latter might take the form of "Do X in a formal situation", but I think the fact of their abundant description of actual usage means this should be taken to mean "Do X in a formal situation because it is or has become the norm in those situations (and adhering to the norm is likely to get better results).")
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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby goofy » Thu Jun 03, 2010 5:17 pm UTC

What about this advice from MWDEU, under "agreement, subject-verb: the principle of proximity":
Proximity agreement may pass in speech and other forms of unplanned discourse; in print it will be considered an error. And it is one that is probably easier to fall into than you might expect - let the examples above be a warning.

If this isn't prescriptive, what is? What does "prescriptivist" mean?

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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby PM 2Ring » Fri Jun 04, 2010 1:23 am UTC

I like gmalivuk's football example.

What's the difference between prescriptivism & descriptivism? The prescriptivist says: "Don't use construction X, it is incorrect". The descriptivist says: "If you use construction X with members of speech community C they are likely to derive meaning A1 instead of your intended meaning A0. Giving recommendations like that doesn't turn a descriptivist into a prescriptivist.

I think that we can all agree that the goal is to encourage effective language usage. If construction X is more ambiguous than construction Y (in a given context), then Y is more effective than X.

OTOH, there is more to language than the straightforward transmission of denotational meaning from speaker to listener. We also have to consider connotations & "framing" issues. People judge each other by the language patterns they use, so if you wish to be taken seriously, you need to use the language patterns that are appropriate to your audience's expectations. You don't use certain informal patterns in a formal context, or vice versa, except for humourous effect. If you're addressing a roomful of people who were educated by hard-core prescriptivists, then you should avoid the use of split infinitives, beginning sentences with conjunctions, etc, if you wish your audience to take you seriously, even though the use of such constructions does not usually create ambiguity.

Of course, sometimes we actually want to be ambiguous; most politicians would be lost without their little ambiguities. :) But even when we intentionally exploit ambiguity, we generally do it in such a way to steer our audience towards a certain interpretation. The surface meaning may not be clear, but the intended connotations generally are.

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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Fri Jun 04, 2010 3:50 am UTC

goofy wrote:I think you're making things too black and white.
Respectfully, I think it is you who is making things black and white. You're suggesting the act of giving advice makes one a prescriptivist, and the act of explaining differences makes one a descriptivist. Presumably, one can flit from one philosophy to another within a single sentence. I am saying they are two schools of thought, often with convergent aims, but employing different methodology. The difference is that prescriptivists compare forms and find the one most suited to formal English, based on standards of custom, history, clarity, consistency, and taste. Those who put too much prominence on 'taste' we tend to call 'pedants' or, on occasion, 'pretentious scum'. Most prescriptivists will note that "judgement" and "judgment" are both acceptable spellings, or that "aluminum" is better for AmE, and "aluminium" is more suited to BrE. This, for example, is an incredibly useful tool for a writer, and is also a collection of rampant prescriptivism. A descriptivist will note the same things, but will also note what is best suited to informal occasions. Descriptivism notes you don't always talk the way you talk to your grandmother, and listens for how you speak to your friends, your workmates, your dog, etc.; prescriptivism is concerned with the most proper way to speak to your grandmother; and pedants insists you only ever talk in the way you would talk to the Queen. Your Robert Hatwell Fiske is firmly a member of the last category. Style guides and dictionaries are largely the domain of prescriptivism, while a slang dictionary is more of a descriptivist tome. There is bleed-over in their tomes--Fowler, for example, blended the two quite a lot--but the difference is in the methodology and the philosophy.
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Re: Should have / Should had

Postby Felstaff » Fri Jun 04, 2010 7:24 am UTC

I should had you as my English teacher.
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