Tuesday, April 19, 2011

In Defense of Um: Prescriptivism and Disfluencies

I am feeling uninspired this week, with little to say, though I do have a dandy of a post in the works for this Saturday.

When a blogger feels uninspired, I hereby declare that it is a good idea (crutch?) to turn elsewhere. So, in the hope that they will inspire you more than my own discourses could, I direct your attention to an article and a quotation, both about linguistics.

The article is titled "Parents' 'Um's' and 'Uh's' Help Toddlers Learn New Words, Cognitive Scientists Find." How many parents teach their children not to use disfluencies such as "um" or "uh" (which could just as easily be considered expletives, or if we want to be untechnical and not sound smart, fillers)? And yet apparently they help our children in their language development. A reminder to always be moderate in our prescriptivism, a principle also emphasized, but from a different perspective (language change rather than language acquisition), in the following quotation:

The linguistic rules which we extrapolate from actual use are inevitably provisional. Every time the language changes it offers us the chance to interpret them more accurately so that we have a more precise understanding of the way in which language works.
Geoffrey Finch, How to Study Linguistics, p. 8

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