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Archive for April, 2015

Muddled Grammar, Muddled Thought (on behalf ofon the part of)

As first brought to Y-H-B’s attention by Jacobus Primus, speakers on both sides of the Atlantic are increasingly prone to confuse the phrases on behalf of and on the part of, using the first when they mean the second. This mistake was heard being made by an otherwise RP speaker this morning on the BBC World Service, which can be taken as a warrant of its pervasiveness.

A confusion of this sort is significant not only in itself but as a sign of a failure of thought, illustrating yet again the role linguistic error plays in undermining the cognitive integrity of verbal communication.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

Basically the Englishes

As has been instanced in more than one earlier post, contemporary English wherever it is spoken all over the globe takes its cue for stylistic and grammatical development from the native speech of America in particular and the United Kingdom in second place. This characterization seems to apply to discourse markers like “as it were,” “if you like,” “so to speak,” “honestly,” etc., as well as to the strictly grammatical composition of speech.

The interpolation of the word “basically” to qualify or fudge what is being asserted is an increasing presence in all the Englishes. What this phenomenon means is the global impulse, when resorting to English as the means of one’s linguistic expression, not to make categorical assertions, to protect oneself from the potential repercussions that may ensue from blanket statements signifying the veracity of the content of one’s utterances. This resort to “basically” in non-native as well as native varieties of English is a sign of a fundamental attitudinal shift in how speakers have come to construe the social and behavioral contexts of expressing themselves linguistically. This retreat from old-fashioned British and American English plainspokenness is much to be regretted.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

Metalinguistic Commentary in Conversation (Error and Normativity in Speech)

Most of what is exchanged in conversation between interlocutors is referential (i. e., strictly oriented toward content), but occasionally––and depending on a person’s variable disposition toward the norms of speech––one interlocutor may insert a correction of or comment on the grammatical side of what the other interlocutor has uttered. Parents routinely correct the speech errors of children; some parents are more scrupulous than others, insisting in some cases on adherence to norms that may be traditional or conservative rather than current.

To the extent that this kind of interpolation may interrupt the flow of speech, some speakers, while silently noting the irruption of an error, may choose to refrain from overtly correcting it, while others may habitually do so regardless of its force. Some linguistic purists take a special delight in correcting their interlocutors, as is the case with Y-H-B’s brother Jacobus Primus, who recently jumped at the chance when hearing the question “who called who?” (the colloquial norm in American English) from the lips of an otherwise strict adherent of linguistic normativity. He then went on to recount the case of a former coworker who blithely ignored being corrected for the erroneous locution “between you and I” and went on to repeat the mistake habitually.

Changes in language often start out as violations of the norm but when adopted by a significant proportion of the speech community cease to be regarded as errors and assume the status of grammatically unexceptional specimens. The “who called who?” example is an illustration of just such a trajectory.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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