This discussion is closed.
Howard Coakley
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#1
OK. Time for this (I think).

My reason for coming here was to entertain and explore my thinking regarding how descripivism is
often in opposition to EFL teaching. As I am about to begin this occupation at the ripe old age of
40, I've been exploring with colleagues in my university how the two approaches can compliment each
other. The conclusions seem to be that they can't.

The name of this newsgroup is misleading. I must admit that I was unaware that this is a group
mainly for ELS related discussion until I read the charter, but it became obvious when I tested this
that many others are ignorant about that too! Anyway, I must apologise to any students who may not
understand why all the arguing took place. Maybe I have an unhealthy aversion to the attitudes of
people who refuse to think for themselves, relying only on the thoughts of others. And this is how I
perceived the reactions to my thoughts. So, although I meant what I said, I may have said it with a
slightly different agenda than I implied, so I should expect to be picked on - I suppose.

Now that we have all calmed down (I hope), had some fun and made our point, I thought it was worth
posting this - without malice, to see what people think. I discovered it while I was searching
google for something else. It was posted to alt.usage.english by Chris Malcolm of Edinburgh
University a couple of years ago, but it's relevant here. I have attributed it at the end.

<quote> If one is making a scientific study of the actual grammar of English as used by English
speakers then there is only one correct way to do it: to examine how English speakers speak. And
since the science of the grammars of natural human languages is quite properly unconcerned with
ethics, beauty, logic, etc., then there is -- in this descriptive scientific discipline -- no
such thing as "correct" grammar beyond that which is defined by the usage and intuitions of
native speakers.

However, English, like all other natural languages in current use, is always changing and evolving.
It is not static. There are many forces which contribute to these changes, such as fashion, the
broadcast media, laziness, likely confusions and errors, etc.. And because the users of English are
human beings, then esthetics, logic, snobbery, etc., also play a part in changing language use.
Indeed, unpleasant though it may be for a radical descriptivist to accept, some changes in English
have been brought about purely by the concerted action of self-appointed groups of experts who
decided what the proper use should be.

The use of "program" for computer programs and "programme" for schedules such as theatre programmes
in Britain is one example of this. When conflict arose in the UK between US "program" and UK
"programme" in the 1970s there was approximately a six month debate in the academic and industrial
computer science press which concluded with the general consensus to settle on the US "program" for
computer programs, and "programme" for the others. The fact that those who took this decision were
largely responsible for training young programmers and computer science students ensured that this
usage become widely disseminated in the UK, although it is by no means universal. Trivial though
this example is, it is an example of explicit prescriptivist considerations deliberately effecting a
change in (UK) English language usage.

Some descriptivists misunderstand the scientific descriptive nature of descriptivist grammar, and
because they have been quite correctly taught that (in the descriptive science of linguistics) usage
and *only* usage defines grammar, not grammar textbooks or dictionaries, they go on to give
descriptivism a moral force, claiming that it is *wrong* to apply prescriptivist criteria to
language grammars in general. Of course it is wrong, by definition, in the descriptive science of
linguistics. But that doesn't mean it is wrong when human users of English argue about how best to
use the language. One might as well take a descriptive scientific study of the ethics of criminal
behaviour, and discovering that most people consider it worse to steal from friends than strangers,
to instruct magistrates to be more lenient in sentencing those who steal only from strangers.

This misunderstanding of the nature of descriptive linguistics has been seized upon by language
democrats to outlaw the use of prescriptivist grammars as weapons in the class wars, to outlaw the
undemocratic suggestion that speakers of local dialects speak "worse" English than those who have
been expensively educated in one of the higher class dialects. This may well be a worthy purpose
which we should all support, but it is another question whether one should pervert the propriety of
scientific linguistic descriptivism into a moral injunction in order to achieve that purpose. Ends
do not justify means.

The simple truth is that in the investigative science of linguistics there is no other criterion of
grammatical correctness than usage. But since *people* speak language, and people are affected by
considerations of beauty, elegance, logic, utility, and the politics of language class-markers, it
will always be possible and quite proper to argue that one of two actual usages is more elegant, or
more logical, or better preserves the expressive power of the language, and so on. And to the extent
that these arguments affect people, the language will change. This is not wrong, or immoral, it is a
natural human propensity. Prescriptive grammars are a natural tool in the intellectual armoury of
those who use, like, and help to create language. The arguments which occur here from time to time
about the usage of smileys :-) are examples of prescriptive debate about email grammar. These
arguments have helped to change the minds of some posters, which in turn has affected the general
usage of smileys. There is nothing wrong with this at all!

The whole prescriptivist/descriptivist war is an extremely silly false dichotomy largely created by
educationalists who can't think clearly, and who misused the proper descriptivist criteria of the
descriptive science of linguistics as a weapon to defend local dialect users against "proper"
English snobbery, and also as a weapon to defend US speakers against British English snobbery. The
scientific objective neutrality of descriptive grammar thus became politicised and a ******* kind of
anti-prescriptivist prescriptivism.

I hope that this argument will persuade you to join me in finding this silly
descriptivist/prescriptivist war a repulsive pig's dinner of misapplied science, half-baked logic,
and linguistic ineptitude. Having done so, you will find yourself free both to use descriptive
grammars in the science of linguistics, and also to use prescriptive arguments based on esthetics,
logic, expressive utility, and so on, when defending your own linguistic preferences and attempting
to persuade others to follow you. </quote>

Chris Malcolm [email protected] +44 (0)131 650 3085 School of Artificial Intelligence, Division of
Informatics Edinburgh University, 5 Forrest Hill, Edinburgh, EH1 2QL, UK

End.

I feel that this describes more elegantly and precisely than I ever could, exactly what I mean by a
'middle ground' between prescriptivists and descriptivists. The teaching occupation must
(IMO) contain a large element of prescriptive practice - by it's very nature.

Sincerest and best regards to all,

Howard Coakley.
0
Cybercypher
Badges:
#2
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#2
Howard Coakley <[email protected] end.of.message.com> burbled
news:[email protected]:

[q1]> OK. Time for this (I think).[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]> My reason for coming here was to entertain[/q1]

You failed to do this, I'm afraid. You irritated almost everybody by your know-it-all attitude.

[q1]> and explore my thinking regarding how descripivism is often in opposition to EFL teaching.[/q1]

Would you care to explain this statement? I'm not at all clear on what it means, and even after
reading Chris Malcom's statement, I'm not sure how you would explain it. After all, Chris said the
descriptivist/prescriptivist war was "silly" and a "false dichotomy" created by "educationalists"
who misunderstood descriptive linguistics and misused the descriptivist idea for political reasons.

I've been teaching EFL for more than 20 years in Japan, the USA, and Taiwan. I have never had any
problem with complementing descriptivist ideas about how native speakers actually use the language
and prescriptivist ideas about how the language should be used in specific situations. EFL teachers
who know their stuff do not impose the stupidities of 18th-century prescriptivist grammarians like
Lowth and his ilk on 21st-century English. We no longer tell people that it is wrong to end
sentences with prepositions, to split infinitives, or to say "It's me" instead of "It is I", and we
no longer claim that double negative constructions are turned into positive constructions because of
the laws of mathematics, where two negatives do equal a positive.

Before I begin discussing how it is possible to have these two seemingly contradictory traditions of
descriptivism and prescriptivism complement each other in the EFL classroom, I will have to know
what you mean by each of them and how, as someone who is "about to begin this occupation at the ripe
old age of 40", you know so much about what actually happens in EFL classrooms around the world that
you can make sweeping generalizations like "descripivism is often in opposition to EFL teaching".
Please give concrete examples of what you mean and the sources for these examples. Until now, and
especially given these admissions, it seems fairly clear that you have been saying things based on
assumptions and presumptions gleaned from god knows where.

[q1]> As I am about to begin this occupation at the ripe old age of 40, I've been exploring with[/q1]
[q1]> colleagues in my university how the two approaches can compliment[/q1]

"complement"

[q1]> each other. The conclusions seem to be that they can't.[/q1]

I would suggest that it all depends on how you define "descriptivism" and "prescriptivism".

[q1]> The name of this newsgroup is misleading. I must admit that I was unaware that this is a group[/q1]
[q1]> mainly for ELS[/q1]

That is "ESL".

[q1]> related discussion until I read the charter, but it became obvious when I tested this that many[/q1]
[q1]> others are ignorant about that too![/q1]

Well, a good lesson in prescriptivism versus descriptivism. Regardless of what the charter of this
unmoderated group says, there are generally three types of questions asked here, as I mentioned in a
previous post. These three types of questions may not be permitted by the charter of the NG, but
people actually use the NG to ask and answer them.

[q1]> Anyway, I must apologise to any students who may not understand why all the arguing took place.[/q1]

I think you owe everyone who reads and posts here an apology, not just EFL students. Good EFL
teachers, like all good teachers, are also students of the subject they teach. Any teacher who
claims to know it all has obviously just decided to stop learning.

[q1]> Maybe I have an unhealthy aversion to the attitudes of people who refuse to think for themselves,[/q1]
[q1]> relying only on the thoughts of others.[/q1]

Please explain what you mean here. Who are these non-thinking people that annoy you so much? I
cannot help but think that you are referring to both the people who ask for help about English here
and the people who disagreed with your misguided "rely on your gut" admonition to non- native
speakers of English; in other words, everybody here but yourself.

[q1]> And this is how I perceived the reactions to my thoughts.[/q1]

AGain, you are being very vague here. Whose reactions to your thoughts? How do you know that people
who reacted negatively to your thoughts do not think and simply rely on the thoughts of others? You
will have to give examples of what you mean. These serious charges require explanations. What you
have essentially said in these two sentences is that "those who disagreed with me don't think for
themselves and merely rely on the thoughts of others". This is no apology but another attack.

[q1]> So, although I meant what I said, I may have said it with a slightly different agenda than I[/q1]
[q1]> implied, so I should expect to be picked on - I suppose.[/q1]

No, you deserved to have the absurdity of some of your advice pointed out to you, and you deserved
to have the obnoxiously presumptuous tone of your language pointed out. And if you think what you
are saying now constitutes an apology to anyone here, I think you need to think again.

[q1]> Now that we have all calmed down (I hope),[/q1]

You seem to have calmed down a bit. The rest of us have been quite calm in response to most of what
you said earlier.

[q1]> had some fun[/q1]

I think that you are the only one who has "had some fun" here. Your goal was not to bring some fun
into the group, it seems, but to stir things up by being outrageous and outlandish.

[q1]> and made our point,[/q1]

Is this the royal "our"? More than one point has been made since your arrival, and the only point
you have successfully made is that people who act like that clichéd bull in a china shop still
create disturbances.

[q1]> I thought it was worth posting this - without malice, to see what people think. I discovered it[/q1]
[q1]> while I was searching google for something else. It was posted to alt.usage.english by Chris[/q1]
[q1]> Malcolm of Edinburgh University a couple of years ago, but it's relevant here. I have attributed[/q1]
[q1]> it at the end.[/q1]

If I may point out a contradiction in what you are now doing and what you have just said, viz.,
"Maybe I have an unhealthy aversion to the attitudes of people who refuse to think for
themselves, relying only on the thoughts of others." Chris's statement is very long and refers to
a continuing debate on AUE. It is not relevant to what has happened here until you can paraphrase
the relevant points Chris made and demonstrate how they apply. You are admitting to an inability
to hink for yourself here and relying on Chris's thought. I suppose you cannot see the irony
there, though. [...]

[q1]> I feel that this describes more elegantly and precisely than I ever could, exactly what I mean by[/q1]
[q1]> a 'middle ground' between prescriptivists and descriptivists. The teaching occupation must[/q1]
[q1]> (IMO) contain a large element of prescriptive practice - by it's very nature.[/q1]

And do you think that you are the *only* wannbe EFL/ESL teacher who knows this? You came into this
NG with an attitude and began making all kinds of wild and outrageous statements about usage just to
make this point? This is the most insulting thing you've said so far. You haven't even begun
teaching EFL but you know more about how it should be taught than anyone else. I hope you think more
about how you have presented both yourself and your great revelation here.

--
Franke: "There are no great religions, only great myths and great mistakes." Bodhisattva F. A.
Tchirl. Grammar 1: Internalized rules for the spoken language. Grammar 2: Formal rules for the
written language. Grammar 1 does not equal Grammar 2.
0
Howie
Badges:
#3
Report 17 years ago
#3
On 30 Jun 2002 03:24 GMT, CyberCypher <[email protected]> wrote another attack - to another
non-malicious posting. This is the response he got:-

Oh Franke. Dear, - lovable Franke! Do you know, for the first time in nine years of contributing to
usenet, I'm about to start a killfile. It will have only your name in it.

I came here expecting lively debate, wit, an element of sarcasm, irony and to learn a few things -
as I always have in these forums. From the first moment I joined in, you attacked me. In your first
reply to my first posting, you called me stupid. You then demonstrated that (actually) you hadn't
read the message properly and tried to wriggle out of it by telling us all that you "knew what the
poster meant even though it was not what he said"! If you were not a teacher this would be
hilarious. No apology was ever made.

Your attitude to new arrivals requires condemnation. It's not much improved for longer-term
habitants.

You have absolutely no sense of magnanimity, no sense of humour, no sense of fair-play and no sense
of sociability. I would have added "no sense", but then I would just have been playing your little
game with you again wouldn't I?

You may now continue to rule the roost as you wish. Just remenber that a big fish in a small sea is
about as effective as farting in the wind.

So, you'll excuse me if I don't rise to the bait again. Only I couldn't bear your "wrath", or that
of any of your pets who also rise to your defence so ineptly.

Love, Kisses and Best Regards,

H.

PS: In my last post I _meant_ ELS and this is why I typed it. I'm sorry about that, - but thanks for
demonstrating (yet again) your incredible talent for knowing what the writer means better than
they themselves do!

(Mixed-metaphors and typos included as a gift designed to give Franke many hours of feelings of
superiority).

"PLONK"

[q1]|Howard Coakley <[email protected] end.of.message.com> |burbled[/q1]
news:[email protected]:
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|> OK. Time for this (I think).[/q1]
[q1]|>[/q1]
[q1]|> My reason for coming here was to entertain[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|You failed to do this, I'm afraid. You irritated almost everybody by |your know-it-all attitude.[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|> and explore my thinking regarding how descripivism is often in opposition to EFL teaching.[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|Would you care to explain this statement? I'm not at all clear on what |it means, and even after[/q1]
reading Chris Malcom's statement, I'm not sure |how you would explain it. After all, Chris said the
[q1]|descriptivist/prescriptivist war was "silly" and a "false dichotomy" |created by "educationalists"[/q1]
who misunderstood descriptive linguistics |and misused the descriptivist idea for political reasons.
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|I've been teaching EFL for more than 20 years in Japan, the USA, and |Taiwan. I have never had any[/q1]
problem with complementing descriptivist |ideas about how native speakers actually use the language
and |prescriptivist ideas about how the language should be used in specific |situations. EFL
teachers who know their stuff do not impose the |stupidities of 18th-century prescriptivist
grammarians like Lowth and |his ilk on 21st-century English. We no longer tell people that it is
[q1]|wrong to end sentences with prepositions, to split infinitives, or to |say "It's me" instead of "It[/q1]
is I", and we no longer claim that double |negative constructions are turned into positive
constructions because |of the laws of mathematics, where two negatives do equal a positive.
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|Before I begin discussing how it is possible to have these two |seemingly contradictory traditions[/q1]
of descriptivism and prescriptivism |complement each other in the EFL classroom, I will have to know
what |you mean by each of them and how, as someone who is "about to begin |this occupation at the
ripe old age of 40", you know so much about what |actually happens in EFL classrooms around the
world that you can make |sweeping generalizations like "descripivism is often in opposition to |EFL
teaching". Please give concrete examples of what you mean and the |sources for these examples. Until
now, and especially given these |admissions, it seems fairly clear that you have been saying things
[q1]|based on assumptions and presumptions gleaned from god knows where.[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|> As I am about to begin this occupation at the ripe old age of 40, I've been exploring with[/q1]
[q1]|> colleagues in my university how the two approaches can compliment[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|"complement"[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|> each other. The conclusions seem to be that they can't.[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|I would suggest that it all depends on how you define "descriptivism" |and "prescriptivism".[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|> The name of this newsgroup is misleading. I must admit that I was unaware that this is a group[/q1]
[q1]|> mainly for ELS[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|That is "ESL".[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|> related discussion until I read the charter, but it became obvious when I tested this that many[/q1]
[q1]|> others are ignorant about that too![/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|Well, a good lesson in prescriptivism versus descriptivism. Regardless |of what the charter of this[/q1]
unmoderated group says, there are generally |three types of questions asked here, as I mentioned in
a previous post. |These three types of questions may not be permitted by the charter of |the NG, but
people actually use the NG to ask and answer them.
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|> Anyway, I must apologise to any students who may not understand why all the arguing took place.[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|I think you owe everyone who reads and posts here an apology, not just |EFL students. Good EFL[/q1]
teachers, like all good teachers, are also |students of the subject they teach. Any teacher who
claims to know it |all has obviously just decided to stop learning.
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|> Maybe I have an unhealthy aversion to the attitudes of people who refuse to think for themselves,[/q1]
[q1]|> relying only on the thoughts of others.[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|Please explain what you mean here. Who are these non-thinking people |that annoy you so much? I[/q1]
cannot help but think that you are referring |to both the people who ask for help about English here
and the people |who disagreed with your misguided "rely on your gut" admonition to non- |native
speakers of English; in other words, everybody here but |yourself.
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|> And this is how I perceived the reactions to my thoughts.[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|AGain, you are being very vague here. Whose reactions to your thoughts? |How do you know that[/q1]
people who reacted negatively to your thoughts do |not think and simply rely on the thoughts of
others? You will have to |give examples of what you mean. These serious charges require
[q1]|explanations. What you have essentially said in these two sentences is |that "those who disagreed[/q1]
with me don't think for themselves and merely |rely on the thoughts of others". This is no apology
but another attack.
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|> So, although I meant what I said, I may have said it with a slightly different agenda than I[/q1]
[q1]|> implied, so I should expect to be picked on - I suppose.[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|No, you deserved to have the absurdity of some of your advice pointed |out to you, and you deserved[/q1]
to have the obnoxiously presumptuous tone |of your language pointed out. And if you think what you
are saying now |constitutes an apology to anyone here, I think you need to think again.
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|> Now that we have all calmed down (I hope),[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|You seem to have calmed down a bit. The rest of us have been quite calm |in response to most of[/q1]
what you said earlier.
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|> had some fun[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|I think that you are the only one who has "had some fun" here. Your |goal was not to bring some fun[/q1]
into the group, it seems, but to stir |things up by being outrageous and outlandish.
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|> and made our point,[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|Is this the royal "our"? More than one point has been made since your |arrival, and the only point[/q1]
you have successfully made is that people |who act like that clichéd bull in a china shop still
create |disturbances.
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|> I thought it was worth posting this - without malice, to see what people think. I discovered it[/q1]
[q1]|> while I was searching google for something else. It was posted to alt.usage.english by Chris[/q1]
[q1]|> Malcolm of Edinburgh University a couple of years ago, but it's relevant here. I have attributed[/q1]
[q1]|> it at the end.[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|If I may point out a contradiction in what you are now doing and what |you have just said, viz.,[/q1]
"Maybe I have an unhealthy aversion to the |attitudes of people who refuse to think for themselves,
relying only on |the thoughts of others." Chris's statement is very long and refers to a |continuing
debate on AUE. It is not relevant to what has happened here |until you can paraphrase the relevant
points Chris made and demonstrate |how they apply. You are admitting to an inability to hink for
yourself |here and relying on Chris's thought. I suppose you cannot see the irony |there, though.
[q1]|[...][/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|> I feel that this describes more elegantly and precisely than I ever could, exactly what I mean by[/q1]
[q1]|> a 'middle ground' between prescriptivists and descriptivists. The teaching occupation must[/q1]
[q1]|> (IMO) contain a large element of prescriptive practice - by it's very nature.[/q1]
[q1]|[/q1]
[q1]|And do you think that you are the *only* wannbe EFL/ESL teacher who |knows this? You came into this[/q1]
NG with an attitude and began making all |kinds of wild and outrageous statements about usage just
to make this |point? This is the most insulting thing you've said so far. You haven't |even begun
teaching EFL but you know more about how it should be taught |than anyone else. I hope you think
more about how you have presented |both yourself and your great revelation here.

--

Howard Coakley: New Media Consultant. My messageboard:-
http://cgi.coakley.plus.com/cgi-bin/.../ikonboard.cgi e-mail...
howard<dot}coakleyatbigfoot<dot].com
ICQ:4502837. (Try ICQ at www.icq.com)
0
Einde O'Callagh
Badges:
#4
Report 17 years ago
#4
Howie wrote:
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]> On 30 Jun 2002 03:24 GMT, CyberCypher <[email protected]> wrote another attack - to another[/q1]
[q1]> non-malicious posting. This is the response he got:-[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]> Oh Franke. Dear, - lovable Franke! Do you know, for the first time in nine years of contributing[/q1]
[q1]> to usenet, I'm about to start a killfile. It will have only your name in it.[/q1]
[q1]>[/q1]
[q1]> I came here expecting lively debate, wit, an element of sarcasm, irony and to learn a few things -[/q1]
[q1]> as I always have in these forums.[/q1]

Then I suggest you restrict yourself to alt.usage.english and alt.english.usage and leave
misc.education.language.english alone. If you're looking for further fields to display your wit
and gift for sarcasm you could also try uk.culture.language.english or one or more of the
soc.culture.* groups.

<snip
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