June 03, 2004

Joshua Macy comes clean

Joshua Macy, a man of many blogs ( Foolippic, Books Do Furnish a Room, BlogRiPpinG, BlogLatin, etc.), has recently started a new one, Logomacy, for "a lot of stuff relating to words and language".

In his 11th post, he fesses up:

I’m a prescriptivist. I admit it. I’m even a prescriptivist of a type that’s catalogued in Language Log: A Field Guide to Prescriptivists, namely a Fashion Prescriptivist.

Fashion—how an admired group talks. Deviation is alienation.

In my particular case the admired group is quite specific: Jane Austen. I recognize the point that descriptivist linguistics makes, that linguistic fashions are arbitrary and that there is nothing intrinsic in Standard English, or any other form, that makes it superior. But if the choice is arbitrary, then we might as well plump for the version of the language that lets us read Pride and Prejudice (and, as an added benefit, English literature since then). It would be a tragedy if there came a point where “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” needed a gloss for the modern native English-speaking reader as the opening of Romeo and Juliet now does ...

He's right, you know. It would indeed be a tragedy, though at the moment, Jane Austen's social norms may need more of an explanation for young Americans than her linguistic ones do.

Posted by Mark Liberman at June 3, 2004 09:47 PM