Short works

Books : reviews

Laurie Bauer.
English Word-Formation.
CUP. 1983

Laurie Bauer, Peter Trudgill, eds.
Language Myths.
Penguin. 1998

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 24 September 1999

Various linguists examine 21 common "myths" about language, and in clear non-technical essays of ten pages or so, demonstrate that they are not true, or at least are more complicated than the sound-bite title would have you believe. Charges of language decay have been going on for centuries. In many cases the criticism of the language being used is merely a covert criticism of the people using the language in that way.

One language myth not covered is Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow -- but that has been adequately demolished elsewhere. These essays make a refreshing change from rants about split infinitives, ending sentences with prepositions, and other language decay woes.


Peter Trudgill. The meaning of words should not be allowed to vary or change. 1998
Rather, language change is a natural process -- words have always changed their meaning
Ray Harlow. Some languages are just not good enough. 1998
"... Maori was no good as a language because it had to borrow words from English in order to express new ideas. English [was] a very flexible and vital language because it had throughout its history been able to draw resources from all over the place to express new ideas."
Jean Aitchison. The media are ruining English. 1998
Rather, journalists reflect the changing use of language, and use it with great clarity
Anthony Lodge. French is a logical language. 1998
Au contraire, the French language is an important part of the French national identity
Edward Carney. English spelling is kattastroffik. 1998
Although English spelling is not phonetic, it exhibits many regularities that make the spelling similar for related but differently pronounced words (so it is electric and electricity, rather than *electrik and *electrisity, for example)
Janet Holmes. Women talk too much. 1998
Rather, men speak more than women most of the time, especially in formal and public contexts
Lars-Gunnar Andersson. Some languages are harder than others. 1998
Some languages have harder spelling, or more difficult sounds, or more complicated grammar, or more involved forms of address -- but they are not all the same languages for each
James Milroy. Children can't speak or write properly any more. 1998
Rather, children are more literate now than at any time of the past -- there never was a Golden Age of literacy
Michael Montgomery. In the Appalachians they speak like Shakespeare. 1998
Rather, there are a few anachronisms used, but the myth is actively (if maybe unconsciously) perpetuated to help counter the "hick" myth
Winifred Bauer. Some languages have no grammar. 1998
Rather, all languages have grammar, but different kinds of grammar (such as word order rather than word endings)
Howard Giles, Nancy Niedzielski. Italian is beautiful, German is ugly. 1998
Rather, how a language or dialect is perceived to sound depends on the hearer's value judgement of the group of people who speak it.
Lesley Milroy. Bad grammar is slovenly. 1998
Rather, what is considered to be 'bad' grammar is merely a different grammar from the one the hearer uses -- but is just as grammatical in its internal structure
Walt Wolfram. Black children are verbally deprived. 1998
Rather, black children (who are considered to be verbally deprived) merely speak a different dialect of English and are penalised when tested relative to "standard" English, and actually come from a richly verbal culture
Jenny Cheshire. Double negatives are illogical. 1998
Rather, the rules of natural language grammar do not follow the same rules as mathematical logic; double negatives such as "I don't know nothing" or "je ne sais rein" have a long tradition in many languages of emphasising the negation; double negatives such as "not untrue" and "not illogical" show that language has more distinctions than simply true and false
J. K. Chambers. TV makes people sound the same. 1998
Rather, regional dialects continue to diverge, and TV reflects change but does not lead it
Laurie Bauer. You shouldn't say 'it is me' because 'me' is accusative. 1998
Rather, English is not Latin, and does not necessarily follow the same rules -- after all, French is closer to Latin, but c'est moi, not *c'est je, is good French
Dennis R. Preston. They speak really bad English down South and in New York City. 1998
Rather, the prejudice against the speakers manifests as a prejudice about the language
Peter Roach. Some languages are spoken more quickly than others. 1998
Rather, it all depends how you measure speed (including pauses, per sound, per syllable or per word), and speed varies with speaker and with social context
Nicholas Evans. Aborigines speak a primitive language. 1998
Rather, there are 250-600 different Aboriginal languages, varying as much from each other as English does from Bengali, each with its own complex vocabulary and grammar
John E. Esling. Everyone has an accent except me. 1998
Rather, everyone has an accent, we just notice the ones that are more different from our own
John Algeo. America is ruining the English language. 1998
Rather, both American English and British English have changed and are continuing to change, and change can be healthy