Critiques on social and education issues
This is the epitome of prescriptivism.
Language is always evolving. Yeah, it’s annoying to hear people drop the words “like”, “wait”, “omg/Oh my God”, “awkward”, and “literally” in situations that don’t belong. But that doesn’t mean that they’re “wrong”. Language is alive, it’s an animal that changes and grows as long as the human race is still alive, and that we still communicate with each other.
You can’t stop linguistic change.
It’s probably the linguistics fanatic in me that’s talking. If I wasn’t an English major already or if I didn’t want to become a teacher, I would have majored or specialized in linguistics. It’s so interesting to see how language evolves, and why people speak the way they do, and why some dialects are shunned, and how languages are put on a pedestal and called “standard”, but treated really like royalty.
He talks about “like” as if using it as a discourse particle (ex. “um”, “uh”, or what we would call fillers) is a new trend, when it really isn’t. It has been used as far back as the 19th century, but for documentation purposes, it has been used in September 1928 in a New Yorker cartoon in the lines: “No, he got, like, a loft.”
Using as a quotative (ex. And I was like, “No way!”) didn’t have as deep roots as using it as a discourse particle. “Like” emerged into popularity as a quotative around the 70’s (give or take a decade), stemming from “to go” in the 40’s (ex. And she goes, “Totally”).
But I digress. My point is that, yes, it can be nerve-snappingly annoying to have someone use “literally” in a figurative sense, or in a sense where being figurative wouldn’t work (ex. “I was literally pumping gas into my car and then the raccoon fell from the roof”), but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Semantics (meanings of words) evolve all the time, day to day. A very well-known example is the word “gay”, which used to mean “happy/joyful”. Now it connotes “homosexual”. “Pretty” used to mean “clever”, which is not something we typically associate with when we say a girl is pretty, or someone is a “pretty little thing”. And now, “pretty” can be used for emphasis as an adverb, such as “that was pretty good”.
And that leads me to talk about “literally”. The colloquial use of this world perhaps is not meant to denote the actual and physical occurrence of an event, but rather for emphasis. “That was literally the best day ever” may be used to emphasize the awesomeness that the speaker experienced in that day, and they may be reminiscing over it. Surely there is no figurative sense of the word “best”: it either is or isn’t.
I would debunk all the words that this prescriptivist Christopher Gurrie has so rudely smashed to bits, but that would take too long.
Although a fervent grammar person myself, I find that this article was completely ignorant of how language works. And to think he is the Director of Speech Communication scares me. Does he know how language lives and evolves in our lives? Language is not just words attached to things, and there are no set rules in stone. Even when we tend to violate the conventions such as “There is apples”, we understand that there is more than one apple being conveyed.
Grammar is not a historical document. There are no “laws” in grammar, it’s all about conventions, and conventions are set by people who have capital in society. Taking the prescriptivist approach and deeming all language evolution as demon spawn is ridiculous and impractical.