The Instigator
belle
Pro (for)
Losing
4 Points
The Contender
PoeJoe
Con (against)
Winning
11 Points

Prescriptive Grammar does more harm than good

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 5 votes the winner is...
PoeJoe
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/5/2010 Category: Education
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 9,677 times Debate No: 12173
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (30)
Votes (5)

 

belle

Pro

I would like to thank PoeJoe for accepting this debate, as it is something I have been looking forward to debating for some time; it appears I have found a worthy opponent.

To start, I shall attempt to make it clear what I mean by prescriptive grammar as opposed to other types. A prescriptive grammar is a set of rules detailing how someone (whoever made those rules) thinks a language should be used, whereas a descriptive grammar is simply a codification of how a language is actually used by its speakers. [1] In the context of this debate, descriptive grammar is an acceptable and less harmful alternative to prescriptive grammar; however, I should not be construed to be arguing expressly for it.

My argument is comprised of two stages: First, that prescriptive grammar is largely unnecessary in modern times, and second, that it is harmful to children, and especially to minorities. These conditions (assuming I fulfill my burden in demonstrating them) should be sufficient to make the case that prescriptive grammar does more harm than good.

R1 for definitions and such. Arguments in Round Two please. I await PoeJoe's acceptance!

1. http://grammar.about.com...
PoeJoe

Con

I thank my opponent for challenging me to this delightful debate, and I accept her definitions.

Along with negating my opponent's arguments during this debate, I will make positive claims about the usefulness of learning prescriptive grammar. These positive claims, although unnecessary for my victory given that my opponent has the burden of proof, will serve to strengthen my argument.

That said, I wish my opponent all the best of luck, and thank the audience for taking the time to read this.

Formalities aside, let us begin.
Debate Round No. 1
belle

Pro

>>>General Remarks<<<

Language is a means of communication between individuals. This means that any features of a language that we wish to examine should be scrutinized with this ultimate purpose in mind. It would not be rational or reasonable, for example, for me to attempt to debate the proposition "butter is than better margarine", because no one would understand what I was trying to say. Thus the possibility that such utter nonsense sentences might occur without prescriptive grammar is not an acceptable objection to the proposition. It is a safe assumption that anyone using language wishes to communicate something and thus to be intelligible to at least one other individual. While to do so does require a shared grammar between them, I will be arguing that one can arise naturally rather than having to be imposed by grammarians.

>>>Part One- On Necessity<<<

It would appear that without some kind of organizing force telling people how to use it, language will decay to the point of unintelligibility, or at the very least great and undesirable ambiguity. However, history has shown that in linguistic community where the agreed upon grammar structure is sparse or incomplete, a single generation of children can "fill in the blanks" in such a way that a fully self-consistent and serviceable grammar emerges, with no top down planning or controls at all. Children growing up around incomplete "pidgin" languages acquire it as their native tongue and through this process it becomes as fully grammatically and communicationally competent as already naturalized languages, known as a creole.[1][2] A similar phenomena has been observed in communities of deaf children, who will spontaneously develop a serviceable sign language to use amongst themselves even in the absence of explicit sign language instruction by adults. Such self made "home sign" systems are somewhat grammatically impoverished, but they are certainly serviceable, and extremely impressive given the complete lack of linguistic input these children experience.[2][3]

The above examples are often cited in support of Noam Chomsky's theory of Universal Grammar, or UG. They handily support his assertion regarding the "poverty of the stimulus"- namely that the language use children hear is not enough to explain their acquisition of language, so there must be some innate language acquisition device in the brain that helps them to fill in the blanks. [4] This theory, and its supporting evidence, further supports my assertion that a workable grammar arises spontaneously within a linguistic community, and need not be taught or imposed. Given the effective and widespread use of mass communication, the "linguistic community" has grown from what used to be a town or county to the entire world- everyone who speaks a given language can become part of a world-wide linguistic community, simply by using the internet and other media. Because of this, any shifts or grammatical changes that occur will either spread throughout the community, or remain in relative isolation until they die out.

>>>An Aside- Note on Linguistic Evolution<<<

All languages change over time. Most obviously this is reflected in choice of vocabulary, as new words enter the lexicon and old words acquire new meanings. But these changes can also manifest in grammatical structure. [5] Its important to note several things in this regard. First, that grammatical changes, unlike vocabulary changes, occur exceedingly slowly. Contemporary students have a lot of trouble with Shakespeare's word choices, but very little trouble with his grammatical structure (though it is noticeably different from that used today). Second, that a prescriptive grammar is doomed to constantly be defeated through this evolutionary process. Prescriptive grammarians have been around since the 200 BCE, and they certainly haven't been able to stem the tide of language change. [6] Finally, since languages are continually evolving, no version is more "correct" or "accurate" than any other. Such a claim is completely baseless.

>>>Whats the Harm?<<<

As noted, prescriptive grammars are a codification of detailed rules as to how a language should be used. Because there is no "officially correct" version of a language, these judgments are inherently arbitrary. They tend to conform to the prejudices of whoever is in a position of power detailing the rules. This is, of course, not a fatal flaw. It is also arbitrary that we drive on the right rather than the left side of the road. Indeed, it is different elsewhere. However, in that case there is no harm being done, and very great harm would likely result if the laws for which side of the road to drive on were abolished. In that case arbitrary convention has a purpose. I hope I have shown in the above section that the arbitrary conventions of prescriptive grammar have no such purpose.

Further, prescriptive grammars are downright harmful to some groups. Schools currently teach "Standard English", and both individuals and employers currently view its use as a measure of intelligence. This is fine, except for groups not exposed to standard English at home. The current arrangement serves to bar certain communities, specifically African Americans, from participating fully in public discourse, and from succeeding in school settings, just because they learned a different dialect of English at home. Commonly called African American English, it is theorized to have arisen from the systematic oppression and isolation of blacks, especially before the civil rights movement. Some of the grammatical differences between standard English and African American English include an allowance for double negatives, the deletion of the verb "be" in many sentences that would otherwise be contracted (ie he nice as opposed to he's nice), and the use of the "habitual be" which I will not explain here but is well explained in [6].

As there is no basis for any dialect being correct over any other, the fact that Standard American English is the standard is the result only of the fact that the majority of Americans speak it. By codifying their grammar into the only "correct" form, the majority of Americans are punishing the black minority with lower test scores, and labeling them with learning disabilities, simply because they speak differently.[7] This is patently unfair. Unless my opponent can offer a substantial reason why the linguistic community needs an imposed standard to follow, there is no justification for this continued, though subtle, oppression.

African American English is the most obvious example. If you read more of [6], they go into detail regarding prestige dialects in general and other minority dialects in English. There is no reason such groups should be treated as second class citizens because of the way they speak. And yet, that is what prescriptive grammars do- privilege one arbitrary form over another. For this reason, I affirm the resolution: Prescriptive Grammar does more harm than good.

Notes on Sources- PDF's available upon request for the two papers. I couldn't find the chapters from the Intro to Language text that I used earlier in the debate online. I apologize for having to cite a book there.

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org...
[2]Fromkin, Victoria, et al "An Introduction To Language" 8th ed. Boston: Thompson-Wadworth, 2007
[3]http://cat.inist.fr...
[4]http://bjps.oxfordjournals.org...
[5]http://www.nsf.gov...
[6]https://segue.middlebury.edu...
[7]http://www.txsha.org...
PoeJoe

Con

(Apologies for the shortness of the argument presented here. At the time of this writing there is thirty minutes left on the clock. No excuses, just an explanation. Many apologies.)

My opponent starts off her argument by asserting that prescriptive grammar is unnecessary because all that is needed for communication between two individuals is a "shared grammar." But my opponent seems to be missing the entire point of grammar.

Grammar is a set of rules that sets a standard for a great population so that it becomes easier for that population to communicate. For example, in the sentence "Bob opened the crate of apples that had a birthday last month," it is clear, though not at first, that it is Bob that had a birthday, not the crate of apples. But it's confusing. Prescriptive grammar tries to combat ambiguities such as these. Grammarians would say that sentence contains an "ambiguous that." They'd say the sentence is better revised, "Bob, who had a birthday last month, opened the crate of apples."

So, while it is hard to conceive why someone would say "butter is than better margarine," it is clear that prescriptive grammar is necessary to promote clearer communication.

My opponent then goes on to assert that a generation will fill in the grammatical blanks of the previous generation and that is therefore unnecessary to have any authority on grammar.

Again my opponent seems to be missing the entire point of grammar.

Let us take an example somewhat removed from grammar: diction. Is there anything inherently wrong with someone using a word differently from everyone else? No, not really. Those listening can always ask for clarification, and as long as there is some common ground between the speaker and listeners they will eventually come to understand one other. But it's awful annoying. We have supreme sources to clarify what is and what is not correct to make thing easier.

Same thing with grammar.

My opponent then goes on to say that prescriptive grammar changes with time. But I fail to see how this is much of a problem.

A lot of grammar is inherent. For example, in the sentence "The person who killed your father is I," it is logical to say 'I,' because "is" is a linking verb which tells the listener that this one thing equals this thing. So, the subjective case makes sense. To my knowledge, this rule has not changed since its conception. It makes complete and logical sense.

But other rules do change. For example, it used to be acceptable to use the relative pronoun "which" when referring to people, as in "our father which art in heaven." But with time, grammarians realized that to avoid ambiguities it was best to reserve the relative pronoun "who" (with the occasional exceptions for "that") when describing people.

So, grammar does change, and there is an objective component to it... so what? With more understanding, science changes. Is this somehow a problem for science as well?

In closing, my opponent attempts to illustrate harm caused by prescriptive grammar, saying that those who have not been trained in prescriptive grammar are unfairly punished.

You know, I was on a music review website the other day (http://thepunksite.com...), and it was clear that the reviewers did not understand even basic grammar. They misused semicolons, misused vocabulary ("then/than" and "it/it's"), and just had horrendous style. And I immediately closed the website and went to the Rolling Stone.

My opponent would argue that I unfairly treated ThePunkSite.com. But here's the thing: whether she likes it or not, grammar *is* a good indicator of how educated someone is. It's a way of showing the reader you're intelligent, at least in the academic sense.

And that's not to say that one should *always* follow the rules. In the above paragraphs, along with the unintentional typos, I've made many intentional errors. Instead of calling misuse of vocabulary "awfully annoying," for example, I used the incorrect "awful annoying" to more fully express my disgust.

But here's another thing: you can only know how to break the rules if you know the rules beforehand. And once you do know the rules, you're free to express yourself in ways you never could have before.

You'll notice, for example, that the vast majority of the literary Gods had great control of prescriptive grammar. Might I suggest that this is not a coincidence.
Debate Round No. 2
belle

Pro

"My opponent starts off her argument by asserting that prescriptive grammar is unnecessary because all that is needed for communication between two individuals is a "shared grammar." But my opponent seems to be missing the entire point of grammar."

Unfortunately this is not what I was getting at. Or rather, it is an oversimplification. Because people communicate with multiple individuals on a daily basis, any analysis that applies to two individuals talking to each other holds for many individuals in regular linguistic contact with one another. Last round, I argued that morphological change is much more common in a language than changes in syntax. If you combine this with semi-regular linguistic contact between diverse populations, it follows that though the words and grammar they use may vary slightly, grammatically, they will not separate from one another to the point of unintelligibility. Slang terms of unknown meaning to outsiders are common in many groups. I challenge my opponent to come up with a "slang grammar" in English that is unintelligible to outsiders. Grammar simply doesn't vary that much, and small differences tend to die out in the larger linguistic community as long as regular contact is maintained. Given the sheer volume of media we consume these days, it is near impossible to remain in an isolated linguistic community for long. So differences in grammar will not persist.

" 'Bob opened the crate of apples that had a birthday last month,' it is clear, though not at first, that it is Bob that had a birthday, not the crate of apples. But it's confusing."

People have birthdays. Crates of apples do not. If someone was trying to imply that the crate had a birthday, they would explain themselves, as even a perfectly unambiguous statement to that effect would be confusing. I think my example is better in this context as "butter is than better margarine" makes it unclear which is better- and the meaning of the sentence hinges on that distinction. I could plausibly be trying to say either. However, as a competent speaker, I would (1) give context to my statement to make the meaning clearer (ie "because the risk of harm from trans-fats outweighs the danger of extra calories) and/or (2) clarify my meaning when it is clear others do not understand (ie wait WHICH is better!?). Prescriptive grammar is not necessary for that. And furthermore, as I said in my last round, and as you ignored, indecipherable sentences are not relevant to this debate. People WANT to be understood, therefore if the grammar they are using doesn't allow that to happen they will modify its usage to better suit their needs. Moreover, this process happens mainly unconsciously. There is no need for an imposed rulebook.

"We have supreme sources to clarify what is and what is not correct to make thing easier."

Again ignoring my previous round. Any claim that one form is more "correct" than another is entirely baseless. The fact that it annoys you less to give an arbitrary authority that "supreme force" doesn't change that fact. And indeed, I contend that communication is easy enough WITHOUT prescriptive grammars. I believe I have shown that to be the case, through demonstrating that workable grammars arise spontaneously in linguistic communities. And no, a linguistic community is not two individuals speaking to one another, it is comprised of all the individuals one person regularly communicates with, in addition to all the people THOSE individuals regularly communicate with, etc. A linguistic community can be extremely large.

"So, grammar does change, and there is an objective component to it... so what? With more understanding, science changes. Is this somehow a problem for science as well?"

Whats the "objective component" to the demonization of the double negative? Its used in most romance languages. The fact that you can come up with a rational explanation for some grammatical rules doesn't negate the fact that they are arbitrary. Furthermore, science is a discipline that discovers new facts about existing objects. Prescriptive grammar conjures "facts" out of thin air and attempts to impose them on weary speakers.

"In closing, my opponent attempts to illustrate harm caused by prescriptive grammar, saying that those who have not been trained in prescriptive grammar are unfairly punished. <>"

Since we're telling personal stories- I hate using my shift key. As I think you've probably noticed, on the forums and in PMs, I very rarely capitalize anything. I don't see the point. I have brought this attitude to many messageboards and I almost always get the same reaction- rejection. People conclude that because I don't see the point in capitalizing the first letter of every sentence I must be dumb. Some completely refuse to read what I have to say. I think my opponent would agree that I am not an idiot. And yet people assume I am and dismiss me simply because I don't see the value in following an inane social convention. Tell me, PoeJoe, is there anything rational in that?

As for your punk site, that sounds like an aesthetic choice you made more than anything else. If you don't want to read so called "poor grammar", that is your choice. However, you could be missing out on reading someone like me! That would be a tragedy...

On a more serious note, I would agree that a mastery of prescriptive grammar rules is indicative of education level, but it says little to nothing about one's innate intelligence. By insisting on a grammatical standard that is unique to highly educated individuals, you force uneducated people into a permanent linguistic underclass. Because children tend to absorb the grammar of their parents, the "poor grammar" of the lower class will be continually passed on within members of that class, making it that much harder for them to overcome their disadvantaged background and succeed in life.

"You'll notice, for example, that the vast majority of the literary Gods had great control of prescriptive grammar. Might I suggest that this is not a coincidence."

This implies nothing more than a thorough study and understanding of language. Creative and intuitive thinking are most fruitful when the area one is working in is extremely familiar. By knowing a lot about language and conventions within it, those authors are able to violate the conventions in startling and pleasing ways. However, this says nothing about the nature or use of prescriptive grammar; rather, it speaks to the importance of understanding your field thoroughly before embarking on serious innovations. Even without prescriptive grammar, linguistic conventions would exist. The difference is that variations from those conventions wouldn't be automatically and scholastically stigmatized.
PoeJoe

Con

"I challenge my opponent to come up with a 'slang grammar' in English that is unintelligible to outsiders. Grammar simply doesn't vary that much, and small differences tend to die out in the larger linguistic community as long as regular contact is maintained. Given the sheer volume of media we consume these days, it is near impossible to remain in an isolated linguistic community for long. So differences in grammar will not persist."

Haha. You should tell that to my aunt (born in the USA with a white father), who absolutely refuses to watch British movies without subtitles.

On a more serious note, though, might I suggest that the reason grammar doesn't fluctuate much is that we have supreme sources to look up to?

I'm part of a writing forum in which aspiring writers post their work and critique others' work, in a sort of mutual critique workshop. Recently, I posted the first part of a short story which sets up the pieces for a (hopefully) kick @ss romantic revenge story.

This is part of one of the critiques I got: "To be honest, I didn't enter into your story. I read the whole part but not with pleasure and excitement, except at the end when I was wondering : well, how is he gonna to react ? What is he gonna to do ? Yet, you are often introduce paragraphs in your text that stand apart from the main action/description/plot, without being linked to the rest of the story. Examples : the book, the plane ... Besides, I'm a bit lost about Harvey's thoughts : on one hand, while his future ex-girlfriend shouts him, his ideas are dragged by a plane which flies over them, which means he doesn't care at all about her ; on the oder hand, he can't even bear the approach of his ex-girlfriend with a kunk, which is supposed to show that he really misses her. I had to point this contradiction which bothered me."

Now, far be it from me to be judgmental, but I think we all agree that this quality of review won't end up on the New York Times Book Review. And I'm open to criticism, but what the heck is this person trying to tell me? I am very lost.

Suppose I thought this person was worth my time to talk to. We are clearly on different fields of communication, and it would be extremely inefficient for us to try to talk with each other. I could explain, for example, that in my story the book and the plane are symbols. But then I'd have to explain what symbols are and what their purposes in literature are.

It would be much simpler if I simply pointed this person to an English classroom. Moreover, after learning from this supreme source, this person would be able to communicate more proficiently and more efficiently with a lot more people. You've got to adhere to an supreme source to communicate well. Otherwise, it's not only annoying but just plain inefficient.

"And furthermore, as I said in my last round, and as you ignored, indecipherable sentences are not relevant to this debate. People WANT to be understood, therefore if the grammar they are using doesn't allow that to happen they will modify its usage to better suit their needs. Moreover, this process happens mainly unconsciously."

Yes, people want to be understood. That doesn't mean people always achieve their goals.

"Any claim that one form is more 'correct' than another is entirely baseless."

The more correct grammar is the one that is most easily understandable. The most easily understandable is the one that everyone's been taught since their first days in school, the one dictated by supreme sources--although, let me add, the supreme sources are very much influenced by what society believes is correct. It's not really subjective, as my opponent tries to suggest. It's more intersubjective, a combination of what makes inherently logical sense ("it is I") and of what society likes at any given moment in history.

"Whats [sic] the 'objective component' to the demonization [sic] of the double negative? Its [sic] used in most romance languages."

It can be confusing, an objectively confusing thing.

Bob: "You grammarians are pretentious? Aren't you?"
Joe: "No... wait, what?"

I should note, however, that the double negative isn't always a mistake: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com...

"The fact that you can come up with a rational explanation for some grammatical rules doesn't negate the fact that they are arbitrary."

Which rules are arbitrary?

Okay, okay. I won't play dumb. There are some rules which I think are extremely arbitrary. For example, I disagree with the mainstream opinion that there is a difference between the restrictive uses of the relative pronouns "that" and "which" (http://www.debate.org...). But others disagree with me. Others say that the rule isn't arbitrary!

But isn't that part of the fun? We disagree. We argue. We convince. Eventually, when there is enough consensus, grammarians can write something objective down in the rule books. Bring the stone tablets from down the mountain. You know? And then the silly debate can be resolved, and better communication can arise. Well...I guess the debate will just be resolved *UNTIL* it's brought up again. But like I said, that's part of the fun.

"As I think you've probably noticed, on the forums and in PMs, I very rarely capitalize anything. I don't see the point. I have brought this attitude to many messageboards and I almost always get the same reaction- rejection"

David Levithan, in his newest book co-written by John Green, doesn't capitalize, either. So, you might have a case. This literary author agrees with you.

However, I think the reason capitalization is so widespread (at least among all the Romance languages) is that capitalization is useful. Although minor, it is a subtle hint to the reader that we're starting a new sentence.

Levithan writes in a sort of stream of conscious style. So, his reason for not capitalizing anything might be that he wants all his sentences to flow more freely. I don't know. Ask him.

In any case, if you think capitalization is useless, then spread the word. I strongly disagree, but who knows? Maybe one day capitalization will be the thing of the past. Maybe grammarians will one day be against capitalization. I doubt it, but it could happen.

"On a more serious note, I would agree that a mastery of prescriptive grammar rules is indicative of education level, but it says little to nothing about one's innate intelligence. By insisting on a grammatical standard that is unique to highly educated individuals, you force uneducated people into a permanent linguistic underclass."

Ummm... my Cantonese parents immigrated to America in their late twenties. My mother speaks the accent of a Hollywood stereotype, and my dad, although much better, slips often.

I turned out okay.

It's all about education. As you've conceded, mastery of prescriptive grammar is indicative of a high education level. I encourage children who have linguistically challenged parents to study real, real hard. (:

"Creative and intuitive thinking are most fruitful when the area one is working in is extremely familiar."

My opponent has conceded that to be a great writer, one must study prescriptive grammar.

Thank you for this wonderful debate.
Debate Round No. 3
belle

Pro

"Haha. You should tell that to my aunt (born in the USA with a white father), who absolutely refuses to watch British movies without subtitles."

I said alien grammar, not alien accents. The fact that she can "read" british perfectly well means that the grammar hasn't diverged at all.

"On a more serious note, though, might I suggest that the reason grammar doesn't fluctuate much is that we have supreme sources to look up to?"

You may suggest it, but you would be wrong. We also have a "supreme source" to go to for definitions of words, but that in no way stops them from acquiring new meanings and connotations and losing older ones.

<>

Aspects of literary criticism, such as an understanding of symbolism, do not arise spontaneously in all readers as part of their normal development. On the other hand, all speakers exposed to some language construct a grammar of their own based on what they hear, even if the input to which they are exposed is incomplete or contradictory.

"Yes, people want to be understood. That doesn't mean people always achieve their goals."

Prescriptive grammar doesn't automatically make people comprehensible to others. You assume that the current documentation of "correct" grammar is less ambiguous than other potential forms, but I challenge that assumption. After all, languages like Latin had case markers, whereby word order was completely irrelevant to distinguishing between sentences such as "dog bites man" and "man bites dog". That would be MUCH less ambiguous than the way it is "officially" done in English. Grammatical prescriptions are not inherently more coherent than spontaneously arising conventions. And since less than ideal distinguishing features can still serve to disambiguate sentences, the fact that a given prescriptive rule may do it better in a specific case is irrelevant. There are other areas where the prescriptive rule is in fact far inferior to the ideally clear construction. All that matters is that the speakers agree upon what a given construction means, and since grammar is absorbed by children from the adults around them, all the speakers in a community will have a more or less uniform set of rules. Dialects are self-perpetuating.

""Whats [sic] the 'objective component' to the demonization [sic] of the double negative? Its [sic] used in most romance languages.""

See how ridiculous prescriptive grammar is? You obviously had no problems interpreting or understanding that sentence, yet picked it apart for being "wrong". Because you rely on a baseless supreme source. Furthermore, I was unaware that demonization was not a word just because your browser doesn't recognize it. [1][2][3] :P

"Eventually, when there is enough consensus, grammarians can write something objective down in the rule books. Bring the stone tablets from down the mountain. You know? And then the silly debate can be resolved, and better communication can arise. Well...I guess the debate will just be resolved *UNTIL* it's brought up again. But like I said, that's part of the fun."

The problem is that there is no objective truth to be found. People can agree that one construction is "better" than another, but thats only because thats the way they are used to using it, the way that is familiar to them. Furthermore, grammatical prescription does NOT proceed like science, "discovering truths". Grammarians declare certain things to be right or wrong based off their own ideas of what language "should" be like- IOW, what it was like when they were kids. Have you noticed that every generation thinks that the one coming after is "destroying" the language, or letting it decay into stupidity? Its because of prejudice, not because language was objectively better in the past.

"David Levithan, in his newest book co-written by John Green, doesn't capitalize, either. So, you might have a case. This literary author agrees with you."

As a side note- this is an appeal to authority. Even writers are not experts on how a language *should* be. They simply absorb all the details of how a language *is* and learn how to use it to their advantage.

"Ummm... my Cantonese parents immigrated to America in their late twenties. My mother speaks the accent of a Hollywood stereotype, and my dad, although much better, slips often.

I turned out okay."

Because you were raised in a linguistic community that spoke more standard english even though your parents did not. Black communities as a whole tend to speak BEV, and thus children in these communities aren't exposed to standard english at all until later in life, when their different grammar and manner of speaking is already a handicap to them. Unless you grew up in a community where you were only exposed to broken english spoken by cantonese immigrants, the parallel doesn't hold. You also have to consider the quality of teachers and teaching in many poor urban neighborhoods. I assume you wouldn't accept the argument "Barak Obama is President so racism isn't a problem in the US". And yet you claim "since I speak good English even though my parents don't, the imposition of prestige dialects isn't discriminatory against minority groups".

"My opponent has conceded that to be a great writer, one must study prescriptive grammar."

No. In order to be a great writer one must study linguistic conventions. Right now, linguistic conventions are basically defined by the system outlined by prescriptive grammar. However, if grammarians stopped telling people how they should use language tomorrow, there would still be linguistic conventions to be noted and played with or challenged by great writers. My opponent has twisted my words to suit his own purposes.

Overall, I believe I have made my case. Prescriptive grammar simply isn't necessary. PoeJoe has attempted to offer many counter-examples where it is, but none of them are relevant, and some are downright disingenuous. He refuses to admit that prescriptions are in fact conventions that are imposed on everyone, and that such conventions would arise naturally without such imposition. He also seems to take a certain kind of pleasure in citing a "supreme authority" in grammar when he admits that the authority is arbitrary in many cases, and that there is no basis for any person or group to have such power. The majority of his case is composed of his frustration with so called "bad" grammar and his experiences involving miscommunication. He has not addressed the nature of language at all. He has not adequately addressed the harms arising from the imposition of prescriptive grammars on diverse groups of speakers. He has not made a coherent case at all. Vote Pro!

1. http://www.thefreedictionary.com...
2. http://www.merriam-webster.com...
3. http://en.wikipedia.org...
PoeJoe

Con

"We also have a 'supreme source' to go to for definitions of words, but that in no way stops them from acquiring new meanings and connotations and losing older ones."

Right, and we have supreme sources to document new definitions. Same thing with grammar.

It's a lot like science. Grammarians document the current understanding of the language. This understanding is what gets put in the textbooks, which children learn and use for their lives.

"On the other hand, all speakers exposed to some language construct a grammar of their own based on what they hear, even if the input to which they are exposed is incomplete or contradictory."

And that's why we have grammarians to tell us what the rules are.

You keep on talking about "common grammars." Well, the most common grammar, as I have said, is the grammar which we've all been taught.

The reviewer I mentioned above is probably not very educated, and because of this lack of education, it is extremely hard for me to communicate with her. In fact, I suspect it would be hard for most of us to communicate with her. My opponent thinks it is better for this reviewer to inefficiently communicate. But it is clearly in the interest for this reviewer to learn prescriptive grammar.

"Prescriptive grammar doesn't automatically make people comprehensible to others."

Prescriptive grammar, however, is a big help.

"Grammatical prescriptions are not inherently more coherent than spontaneously arising conventions."

If the convention does not contradict logic, and if it becomes pervasive, then that convention *becomes* the prescription. As I've stated, grammar is intersubjective. Prescriptive grammar and grammatical consensus are not mutually exclusive.

"See how ridiculous prescriptive grammar is? You obviously had no problems interpreting or understanding that sentence, yet picked it apart for being 'wrong'."

I like how you use British style for your quotes.

Anyway, I apologize for wrongly correcting your spelling of "demonization."

I will say, though, that your use of "its," although clearly understandable in context, did throw me off for a second. At first, I read your sentence as a noun phrase and a prepositional phrase stuck together: "Its use in most romance languages..."

It was just a little inconvenience. But if you want to maximize your communication, I strongly suggest sticking with prescriptive grammar.

"The problem is that there is no objective truth to be found."

I think you mean "inherent" truth. Inherent truth is truth determined solely by the object, while objective truth is an interplay between a subject and object.

In any case, there is inherently correct choices: "you are better than I at the game," for example.

"Furthermore, grammatical prescription does NOT proceed like science, 'discovering truths'."

Grammar is more of a social science, really, discovering the truths of what makes society best function.

"Grammarians declare certain things to be right or wrong based off their own ideas of what language 'should' be like- IOW, what it was like when they were kids"

Nu uh.

Is there some bias? Sure. But that's true for everyone doing anything, like a scientist exaggerating lab results.

There is still an objective basis to grammar: how to most efficiently and proficiently communicate.

That is how, for example, I'm able to argue that the pronoun 'yall' should be considered acceptable (http://www.debate.org...). And while I understand it is currently unacceptable, it is a battle I fight every day. I argue for this usage through my speech, through using the word 'yall' when appropriate.

"Black communities as a whole tend to speak BEV, and thus children in these communities aren't exposed to standard english at all until later in life, when their different grammar and manner of speaking is already a handicap to them."

I find this offensive. My opponent is implying that black children who grow up in predominantly black communities are somehow linguistically challenged. I submit that anyone, regardless of race, can study hard and learn to speak well.

"He refuses to admit that prescriptions are in fact conventions that are imposed on everyone, and that such conventions would arise naturally without such imposition."

What? I've been saying that prescriptive grammar is intersubjective since the second round!

"He also seems to take a certain kind of pleasure in citing a 'supreme authority" in grammar when he admits that the authority is arbitrary in many cases, and that there is no basis for any person or group to have such power."

A fringe scientist doesn't agree with the theory of natural selection. Yes, he will be laughed at.

Similarly, I do not agree with the mainstream that the relative pronoun 'which' can't be used in restrictive instances. And yes, I deserve to be laughed at. So what? I'll keep on arguing.

"He has not adequately addressed the harms arising from the imposition of prescriptive grammars on diverse groups of speakers."

On the contrary, even if you, the audience member, do not agree that I've demonstrated that prescriptive grammar is good (not my burden of proof anyway), my opponent has not shown the harm of prescriptive grammar. She has merely asserted it, and she therefore fails her burden of proof. She has not created a valid case.

Vote Con!
Debate Round No. 4
30 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by magpie 4 years ago
magpie
Pro's position is more about PC objectives, than excellence in communications. Science could not proceed with the imprecise grammar that she elevates to parity with highly structured (prescriptive) grammar. In my years of work in computer technology, the highest predictable failure rate was among those who could not effectively communicate with peers and customers. Too many of them were blacks, whose grammar would have been effective in the hood, but not in the lab. Of course, I don't blame them. Most were deprived - for one reason or another - of a good education.
Although almost all had comparable abilities to their peers. Their lack of speaking skills (read: non-prescriptive based grammar) resulted in their ultimate failure.
Posted by belle 4 years ago
belle
i'm surprised anyone even read this! hehe.

guess i'm too much of a radical for you guys :(
Posted by feverish 4 years ago
feverish
Great debate guys. lol @ John's vote.
Posted by RoyLatham 4 years ago
RoyLatham
A fine debate.

Pro claims that alternative forms are English are intelligible, so there is no need for a standard prescriptive grammar. I'm not so sure they are all intelligible, but if so that doesn't mean there are equally easy to understand. "She don't be doing nothin'." would probably be parsed as "She is not doing anything." by most native speakers of English, but it would be difficult or impossible for many non-native speakers to understand. Standard English is the easiest to understand, and that is the argument for prescriptive grammar.

Regional speech patterns have diminished considerably in the US the past 50 years. That's probably due to television and other mass media that are effectively teaching standard English, but schools contribute. This is a good thing, because it facilitates communication. Standard English is not better in terms of its ability to communicate, it is just standard. Pro's argument that there is no better and worse is true but irrelevant. The virtue come from making one standard. School textbooks do that.

Con's argues that non-standard English tags the user as uneducated. That's unfair, as Pro says, but it is true. We should not want anyone to be unfairly tagged, so standard English should be taught and learned. Keep in mind that about half the English speakers in the world have English as second language. It would be chaotic to have non-standard grammar.

Arguments to Con. Everything else a tie. Great debate.
Posted by PoeJoe 4 years ago
PoeJoe
That's a myth. Ending sentences with prepositions is fine: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com...

Disclaimer: Grammar Girl is a pretentious idiot, but when she's right, she's dead on.
Posted by sherlockmethod 4 years ago
sherlockmethod
An epic debate between two solid debaters and the read was well worth the time. RFDs mean more than points to me and I will take some time with this one since you both put effort into this debate.
B/A : Neutral to some extent. I speak with a strong southern US dialect. One of my presentations is available in the science forums. My concern with "grammar Nazis" is determining at which point rules become little more than pretentious nonsense. As the old southern adage goes:

Southern girl to pretentious Boston girl, "Where are you from?"
Reply from Boston girl, "A place where we do not end our sentences in prepositions."
Reply from Southern girl, "I'm sorry, where are you from, b!tch."

I see the need for solid grammar, but not when grammar rules become so difficult that one loses the verbal expression of a thought in order to satisfy rules used to determine social/educational background. At some point this whole exercise is simple snobbery.

Conduct: Straight tie

S/G: I am not touching this one.

Sources: Tie, no need really.

C/A: This is the big one and I was going to give a tie vote, but y'all worked too hard for such a vote. My vote is for Pro as she met her burden in a very tough debate with a challenger countering with his best at every turn. My biggest issue is simply that Con did not address the elitism involved when speaking. I may not speak with perfect grammar, but few of us do in the first place. I am; however, able to convey my thoughts well when I do speak. If an individual wishes to ignore me because I say "y'all" or "L-I-B" (say "well I will be" in southern and it sounds just like L-I-B) then they lose, not me. On the other hand, I looked for Pro to explain such anomalies as DDO user Godsands. I do not understand many of his thoughts and I have to diagram his sentences to understand what he may or may not be trying to say. Pro addressed this adequately when writing on the evolution of language. This was very close and I thank both
Posted by PoeJoe 4 years ago
PoeJoe
The irony is that I probably made more unintentional grammatical errors than belle did. For example, "there is inherently correct choices." I'm finding all these slip-ups everywhere. Gah! *hangs self*
Posted by Yvette 4 years ago
Yvette
That was a really hard vote. Great debate. :)
Posted by belle 4 years ago
belle
first of all, you said you wanted to send them to an english class because you would have to explain symbolism and such to them, and it would be too complicated. nothing to do with grammar. second, while it may be annoying to explain yourself more fully, its going to happen anyways because vocab varies even more widely than grammar. no two people use grammar in the exact same way. not even prescriptive grammar can prevent that. and as i have said a million times, conventions arise naturally with or without prescriptive grammar. you can't compare a world without prescriptive grammar to one where everyone follows the rules all the time- such a world doesn't exist. what matters is that the majority of people agree what a certain thing means... and that doesn't require prescriptive grammar.
Posted by PoeJoe 4 years ago
PoeJoe
Oh, you posted your response already.

In any case, would you like to respond to my whole "because of her poor grammar, it's really hard to understand what the aspiring reviewer was saying" bit?
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Vote Placed by magpie 4 years ago
magpie
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