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Linguistic Girl Power

Bridging the Unbridgeable

We have dealt with numerous language issues such as the oddly misplaced apostrophe, the dangling participle and the new “like” on our blog, but what interests me in particular are the social factors that may or may not pull the strings behind the scene. Does education influence your attitudes towards the acceptability of the often preceived misuse of literally? Do younger people, described by Naomi S. Baron as the Whatever Generation, really accept anything when it comes to language usage? What role does gender play?

Gretchen McCulloch wrote an interesting piece on the role of the latter in language change arguing that young women “are the real language disruptors”. Sociolinguistics studies, such as the ones conducted by William Labov, have shown that women are the driving force behind linguistic innovation. Be it uptalk or the use of like. Women have often been blamed for these language disruptions; a term…

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Gove on grammar, again

Bridging the Unbridgeable

The former Education Secretary  Michael Gove, who has been appointed Lord Chancellor and Secretary of Justice, has been criticised for ‘patronising’ civil servants with his take on grammar. As an English graduate from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, Gove is known not to play coy when voicing his opinion on correct usage. In 2013, he instructed civil servants in the Department for Education by providing his 10 golden rules. Now, he is back again with his grammatical ‘preferences’ which include avoiding impact as a verb and starting sentences with however, using contractions such as doesn’t or don’t as well as the word ensure. 

Intrigued by this, the Independent looked at some articles which Gove wrote for The Timesduring his time as a journalist and found that, despite his disapproval of starting sentences with however, Gove doesn’t strictly follow his own rule.(Or should I say does not?)

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What kind of grammar nerd are you?

Bridging the Unbridgeable

Today is National Grammar Day in the US and to celebrate this joyful occasion, Grammarly, a company providing a spell checker and grammar checker with the same title, has published a quiz: What kind of grammar nerd are you?

It contains questions on usage problems, such as preposition stranding and the split infinitive, as well as on your attitudes towards textspeak and other usage conventions. For those of you who always wanted to know whether you are a Pedant’s Grammarian or Enlightened Grammarian, simply take the quiz and find it out!

Happy Grammar Day!

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David vs Goliath: Oliver Kamm’s take on English usage

Bridging the Unbridgeable

I have to admit that reading usage guides can get somewhat boring. Their authors, most of them prescriptivists and literally old-school, frequently use a similar set of usage problems discussing them in a similar manner and expressing similar attitudes. If you read one prescriptive usage guide, your second will most probably not rock your world. On my visit to Oxford last week, I discovered however a rather peculiar usage guide, whose title immediately caught my attention: Accidents will happen: The non-pedantic guide to English usage.

Written by Oliver Kamm, leader writer and columnist for The Times, this usage guide was only recently published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and thus dethrones Steven Pinker’s Sense of Style as the most recent usage guide. What intrigued me was Kamm’s point of view on language, which definitely struck a chord with me. He emphasises how native speakers of English need to be…

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Fix Your Grammar

Bridging the Unbridgeable

If you are in a grammar or usage dilemma and looking for a clarification, you can find a huge number of useful and informative websites on grammar and usage advice online. Sometimes you come across advice presented in a somewhat different manner. A perfect specimen of such usage advice is a video by Glove and Boots. In Fix Your Grammar, usage issues such as literally as an intensifier and the homophones there, their and they’re are tackled in a humorous way.

Click on the picture to view the video!

As mentioned in the video, the frequent occurrence of such “mistakes” is often attributed to people’s laziness when posting comments online. What do you think? Do you pay attention to correct spelling and grammar offline as well as online?

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Season’s Greetings and other seasonal pitfalls

Bridging the Unbridgeable

Christmas is getting closer and the preparations for the festive season are well under way. If you think that pedants and sticklers will grant you some sort of Christmas amnesty, you are most probably wrong. For  them the Christmas season is yet another occasion to spot their fellow citizens’ alleged abuses of the English language. In order to avoid any confrontation at the dinner table, here is some advice on how to write “pedantproof” Christmas cards.

Seasons Greetings?

The most common mistake on Christmas cards is the misplaced or, God forbid, forgotten apostrophe. In this article on SLATE, Kate Brannen provides a hilarious and personal insight into how Christmas cards can affect the Christmas cheer. Brannen illustrates the struggle and confusion caused by the pluralisation of the family name when writing Christmas cards. Is it the Johnsons? Or the Johnson’s?  Zimmermans? Or Zimmermen? If you are not sure how to make…

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Fresh from the English Today press: The dangling participle – a language myth?

Bridging the Unbridgeable

The December issue of  English Today contains the latest feature article from our project in which I am discussing the acceptability of the dangling participle. Here are some of the main points addressed in the article The dangling participle – a language myth?:

  • Are usage problems always straightforward and problematic?
  • Can  context compensate for the lack of a suitable subject in the participle clause?
  • Has the acceptability of the dangler compared to Mittins et al.’s study (1970) increased or declined?
  • And last, but not least, what do you think about the dangler and its acceptability?

Read the English Today feature to receive some answers to these questions and help us answer the last question by completing the Proper English Usage online survey.

Note: You can read the full article on the English Today page of this website, or if you have access, download the original pdf from the website

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A lost cause?

Concede defeat or concede victory?

Bridging the Unbridgeable

Alex Salmond at polling station

Yesterday Scotland has voted and decided to stay within the United Kingdom. Today newspapers are filled with punchy and informative headlines analysing the outcome of the Scottish referendum. When I was reading an article in The Independent, my eyes fell immediately on two little words: concede defeat.
You may ask yourself now what’s the big deal or what’s wrong with this expression. And you are rightly doing so. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with concede defeat. But a related expression, concede victory, is found troublesome by a few. In my research on the BBC I have come across the ‘usage problem’ of using concede victory instead of concede defeat. The BBC style guide declares the use of “concede defeat” as “wrong” and favours the use of concede victory. Intrigued by this issue, I have decided to see how concede is actually used in the…

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No hard language feelings?

Bridging the Unbridgeable

The use of English, or rather its misuse, has often caused the one or the other to throw up his or her (or their?) hands in horror. Last month I attended the English Grammar Day at the British Library in London and to my surprise even linguistics seem to have harboured strong feelings towards English usage. One question from the audience aimed at identifying the panel’s ‘most hated’ neologisms. Learnings, to uplevel and to gallery one’s ideas were mentioned.

panel english grammar day The English Grammar Day panel

As part of my survey, I have also been interviewing people, as I am currently doing in Cambridge. One of my questions deals with pet hates. It was no surprise for me to see that everyone had at least one word, usage or phrase they could not stand. The historic present, confusing I and me, like, literally are just a few to mention here. What was…

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Next generation of prescriptivists?

Bridging the Unbridgeable

“I am a pedant. There is no question about it. Everyone I know would agree, and I accept and embrace it. I have no problem with being called a nerd, or a geek, or any synonyms of these words.”

Albert Gifford

These are the words of Albert Gifford, a 15-year-old schoolboy from Shepton Mallet, Somerset. Despite his young age, Albert has the courage to take on big giants when it comes to grammar. Recently, he has managed to force the supermarket giant Tesco to change its Orange juice packaging over a grammar mistake. Apparently, Tesco’s orange juice is the “most tastiest”. Albert, however, won’t rest on his oars and has his eyes set on BMW. Read his comment in The Guardian to find out more about it.

Whether to correct or not to correct other people’s mistakes was discussed in a previous blog post by Robin Straaijer. Would you correct your…

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