So is language change progress or degeneration? It is neither, of course. To assert that language change is for the better or worse requires some measure of what "good" or "bad" language is, and the issue of language change needn't come into question here. But no coherent criterion has ever been given: upon examination, the pronouncements of the self-appointed pundits are always a mix of cultural biases, half-understandings of languages, and an obvious compulsion for telling people what to do.
language quoteschange quotesprogress quotesdegeneration quotesassert quotesworse quotesrequires quotesmeasure quotesgood quotesbad quotesissue quotesneednt quotesquestion quotescoherent quotescriterion quotesexamination quotespronouncements quotesselfappointed quotespundits quotesmix quotescultural quotesbiases quoteshalfunderstandings quoteslanguages quotesobvious quotescompulsion quotestelling quotespeople quotes
Universal grammar is about what language is: it is to be distinguished from prescriptive grammars, often distilled in newspaper columns, which tell us what language should be. We are all entitled to our own opinions of what is appropriate, be it in the arrangement of words or flowers - as long as we keep in mind that these are just opinions. The properties of universal grammar linguists have unearthed, however, are a useful defense when language "authorities" try to rationalize their pontifications: none of the don'ts they advertise can be found in the book of universal grammar.
universal quotesgrammar quoteslanguage quotesdistinguished quotesprescriptive quotesgrammars quotesdistilled quotesnewspaper quotescolumns quotesentitled quotesopinions quotesarrangement quoteswords quotesflowers quoteslong quotesmind quotesopinions quotesproperties quotesuniversal quoteslinguists quotesunearthed quotesdefense quotesauthorities quotesrationalize quotespontifications quotesdonts quotesadvertise quotesfound quotesbook quotesgrammar quotes
Now we have come full circle to the subtitle of this book: children learn by unlearning other languages. Viewed in the Darwinian light, all humanly possible grammars compete to match the language spoken in the child's environment. And fitness, because we have competition, can be measured by the compatibility of a grammar with what a child hears in a particular linguistic environment. This theory of language takes both nature and nurture into account: nature proposes, and nurture disposes.
full quotescircle quotessubtitle quotesbook quoteschildren quoteslearn quotesunlearning quoteslanguages quotesviewed quotesdarwinian quoteslight quoteshumanly quotesgrammars quotescompete quotesmatch quoteslanguage quotesspoken quoteschilds quotesenvironment quotesfitness quotescompetition quotesmeasured quotescompatibility quotesgrammar quoteschild quoteshears quoteslinguistic quotestheory quotestakes quotesnature quotesnurture quotesaccount quotesproposes quotesdisposes quotes
Is language actually getting better, shorter, and easier? Nowadays we often hear exactly the opposite. Teenager slang is awful, students no longer learn Latin, our children - not to mention our president - cannot put together a grammatical sentence. The whimsical poet Ogden Nash was at least half serious in his 'Laments for a dying language': Coin brassy words at will, debase the coinage; We're in an if-you-cannot-lick-them-join age, A slovenliness-provides-its-own-excuse age, Where usage overnight condones misusage. Farewell, farewell to my beloved language, Once English, now a vile orangutanguage.
language quotesshorter quoteseasier quotesnowadays quoteshear quotesopposite quotesteenager quotesslang quotesawful quotesstudents quoteslonger quoteslearn quoteslatin quoteschildren quotesmention quotespresident quotesput quotesgrammatical quotessentence quoteswhimsical quotespoet quotesogden quotesnash quoteshalf quoteslaments quotesdying quoteslanguage quotescoin quotesbrassy quoteswords quotesdebase quotescoinage quotesifyoucannotlickthemjoin quotesage quotesslovenlinessprovidesitsownexcuse quotesusage quotesovernight quotescondones quotesmisusage quotesfarewell quotesfarewell quotesbeloved quoteslanguage quotesenglish quotesvile quotesorangutanguage quotes
Language guardians have often blamed linguists as defenders of bad language: moral and cultural relativism is often tossed in at no extra charge. We as a profession are supposedly promoting the idea that anything goes in grammar... But no, we have never said anything goes in grammar. (...) When it comes to the proper use of language, universal grammar is the ultimate authority. It is not about what rules are deemed reasonable or popular; it is about what rules are true. And one sign for a true rule is that it appears in young children, long before they are polluted by dubious grammatical advice.
language quotesguardians quotesblamed quoteslinguists quotesdefenders quotesbad quoteslanguage quotesmoral quotescultural quotesrelativism quotestossed quotesextra quotescharge quotesprofession quotessupposedly quotespromoting quotesidea quotesgrammar quotesgrammar quotesproper quoteslanguage quotesuniversal quotesgrammar quotesultimate quotesauthority quotesrules quotesdeemed quotesreasonable quotespopular quotestrue quotessign quotestrue quotesrule quotesappears quotesyoung quoteschildren quoteslong quotespolluted quotesdubious quotesgrammatical quotesadvice quotes
Language is what we use to tell stories, transmit knowledge, and build social bonds. It comforts, tickles, excites, and destroys. Every society has language, and somehow we all learn a language in the first few years of our lives, a process that has been repeated for as long as humans have been around. Unlike swimming, using Microsoft Windows, or making the perfect lemon souffle - which some of us never manage to do - learning a language is a task we can all take for granted.
language quotesstories quotestransmit quotesknowledge quotesbuild quotessocial quotesbonds quotescomforts quotestickles quotesexcites quotesdestroys quotessociety quoteslanguage quoteslearn quoteslanguage quotesyears quoteslives quotesprocess quotesrepeated quoteslong quoteshumans quotesunlike quotesswimming quotesmicrosoft quoteswindows quotesmaking quotesperfect quoteslemon quotessouffle quotesmanage quoteslearning quotestask quotesgranted quotes
The true structure of the Welsh grammar will be revealed only when we look at sentences slightly more complicated than its basic VSO pattern. Welsh is no different from the rest of the world: it does involve an extra step, but even that isn't all that unusual. Welsh is like Shakespearean English on acid: the verb always - not just in questions - moves to the beginning. Alternatively, it can be viewed as taking the French grammar a step further. While the verb stops at tense in French, it moves further in Welsh to a position that traditional grammarians call the complementizer (don't ask).
true quotesstructure quoteswelsh quotesgrammar quotesrevealed quotessentences quotesslightly quotescomplicated quotesbasic quotesvso quotespattern quotesrest quotesworld quotesinvolve quotesextra quotesstep quotesunusual quotesshakespearean quotesenglish quotesacid quotesverb quotesquestions quotesmoves quotesbeginning quotesalternatively quotesviewed quotestaking quotesfrench quotesstep quotesstops quotestense quotesfrench quotesposition quotestraditional quotesgrammarians quotescall quotescomplementizer quotes