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I haven’t posted anything in a while because it was the end of the quarter and, even without any classwork to speak of, I had to get a few components of my research together before spring break. And now I’m on break, so I’m having trouble putting together the energy to concoct a proper post. However, there are four other posts that I found semi-recently that I was so very fond of that I had to share them with you all.

The first is Mark Liberman’s Language Log post “Teaching Zombie Rules“, which offers a potential answer to the problem I find myself in quite a lot: how should one deal with grammar rules that aren’t really rules?  Sure, it’s an easy question once you’re a professor or even a grad student.  I use the grammar that I believe to be best justified, and if anyone tells me I’m wrong, I present the facts that back up my usage.  If a pedant insists I’m wrong, it doesn’t matter, because they don’t hold any power over me.  But what if you’re a student preparing for a grammar test that includes zombie rules (the SAT, for instance)?  Even worse, what if you’re a tutor preparing someone else for a grammar test?  How do you teach a rule you know to be wrong?  Liberman’s answer is great, in part because it recasts the problem in terms of audience design.

The second is this year’s Grammar Day post from John at Bradshaw of the Future.  John points out that all these grammar points that we all care so much about are just insignificant pieces of the whole.  The core of English (or any other language’s) grammar is essentially the same across all its users.  A few people saying “between you and I” isn’t going to change the fact that English is an Subject-Verb-Object language or that it has singular and plural morphology, but not dual morphology (as in American Sign Language).  This is why you shouldn’t get up in arms about the horrendous English these kids today speak — virtually everything they say is grammatically correct anyway.  (John has a history of good Grammar Day posts; last year’s was a gem as well.)

The last is a two-pack: Arnold Zwicky’s Grammar Day post from last year on Language Log, and this year’s version on his own blog.  There’re a lot of good points in these posts, but I’m just going to mention the minor one that prescriptivists have this infuriating tendency to constantly couch their opinions in light absurdity so that when someone complains that their beliefs are ill-founded, they can point to the absurd part and saying “Can’t you tell I’m joking?!?!?”  It’s like when you’re talking to someone about their spouse and they growl, “Sometimes I just want to wring his/her neck,” and then after they stare into the middle distance for a second, they sort of chuckle.  Sure, they’re probably chuckling about the absurdity of the statement, but then again, you have to wonder if they were if they were really chuckling at the mental image.  So too with prescriptivists; I think they think they’re joking, but having dealt with them and occasionally incurred their wrath, I’m not so sure they are.

I hope you enjoy those links as much as I did.

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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.

About Me

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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