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Bernard Lamb is at it again. Well, to be precise, he was at it again, because the piece I just found dates back to October. But it’s just as poorly reasoned as anything new, so let’s go back and take a look.

Lamb, as you may remember from a previous encounter, is an Emeritus Reader in Genetics at ICL and president of the Queen’s English Society. He’s an old prescriptivist whose opinions were reached not by studying linguistics or the English language but by observing his students’ writing and complaining about its quality.

There’s no reason to go through the whole article, because most of it is uninteresting fluff and Stan Carey already said all that really needed to be said about the Queen’s English Society’s position. I just want to mention two things that Lamb wrote.

“It is sometimes argued that grammatical rules are invalid because some great writer broke one. That is nonsense. Great writers understand the rules and can knowledgeably break them occasionally for specific effects such as surprise or humour.”

Oh, the great-writers-versus-everyone-else argument. Lamb brazenly begs the question (and I mean this in the traditional sense that he surely would not object to) here. If a great writer breaks a rule, it is for a specific intentional effect, every time. How do we know that this is for intentional effect? Because we are reading a great writer. Okay, fine. Then explain the specific purposes that Jane Austen intended in the 87 separate uses of singular they that Henry Churchyard found in her writings.

“New phrases may be worth adopting if they convey a meaning that is neat, clear and concise – such as ‘yummy mummy’.”

Really? I mean, I’m not saying that yummy mummy shouldn’t be a part of English, but Lamb considers that a prime example of neatness, clearness, and concision amongst new phrases in English? That’s even odder when you consider that the QES disapproved of Ms. up till last year.

[Cereal box]

Probably not the meaning Lamb is thinking of.

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A lot of people make claims about what "good English" is. Much of what they say is flim-flam, and this blog aims to set the record straight. Its goal is to explain the motivations behind the real grammar of English and to debunk ill-founded claims about what is grammatical and what isn't. Somehow, this was enough to garner a favorable mention in the Wall Street Journal.

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I'm Gabe Doyle, currently a postdoctoral scholar in the Language and Cognition Lab at Stanford University. Before that, I got a doctorate in linguistics from UC San Diego and a bachelor's in math from Princeton.

In my research, I look at how humans manage one of their greatest learning achievements: the acquisition of language. I build computational models of how people can learn language with cognitively-general processes and as few presuppositions as possible. Currently, I'm working on models for acquiring phonology and other constraint-based aspects of cognition.

I also examine how we can use large electronic resources, such as Twitter, to learn about how we speak to each other. Some of my recent work uses Twitter to map dialect regions in the United States.

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