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The Epidemic of Verbal Misgovernment

With the rise of the internet and mass communications has come the establishment of (American) English as the world’s lingua franca. This development has necessarily been accompanied by imperfect learning, which means that grammatical normativity has suffered, perhaps nowhere more noticeably than in the matter of verbal government, specifically the use of the correct postposition after verbs.

For instance, even native speakers of American English are now constantly heard confusing the phrases “ask (a question) of” with “put (a question) to,” substituting the postposition to for of after ask. The media universe is rife with such mistakes, which linguists are prone to identify with analogy as a cause. One can see, of course, why to seems more “natural,” given its use in other constructions involving directionality and the indirect objects of certain verbs, but correct usage is not just an arbitrary or slavish adherence to traditional rules of grammar but the bedrock of the felicitous expression of thought. Its raison d’être has a cognitive dimension that goes beyond language as a cultural phenomenon.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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