Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Language Myths

I have books on my wish list that basically be had for the price of postage, and sometimes will order up a few, especially before Christmas when I might (or might not) give them away as stocking presents after reading them myself. Books received are assumed to have been read by the giver in our family.  I hear that is considered impolite by some, but it only seems sensible to us.

Language Myths is about 15 years old, has an English/Canadian/Australian slant, and is pretty basic. There are twenty essays on common false beliefs:

The Meaning of Words Should Not Be Allowed To Vary Or Change
Some Languages Are Just Not Good Enough
The Media Are Ruining English
French Is A Logical Language
English Spelling is Kattastroffik
Women Talk Too Much
Some Languages Are Harder Than Others
Children Can't Speak Or Write Properly Anymore
In the Appalachians They Speak Like Shakespeare
Some Languages Have No Grammar
Italian Is Beautiful, German Is Ugly
Bad Grammar Is Slovenly
Black Children Are Verbally Deprived
Double Negatives Are Illogical
TV Makes People Sound the Same
You Shouldn't Say "It is Me" Because 'Me' Is Accusative
They Speak Really Bad English Down South and in New York City
Some Languages Are Spoken More Quickly Than Others.
Aborigines Speak A Primitive Language
Everyone Has and Accent Except Me
America Is Ruining The English Language.

If you believe any of these myths, then I guess you need the book.  If you don't, then I guess you don't. Not much new or advanced. Some of these are more commonly held by liberals, some by conservatives. There were some silly things written in the essays about women speaking too much and blacks being verbally deprived, but they are still myths, and the authors covered the territory.


5705freedaysout said...


I came across this site while researching for my own site (which I intended to call The Village Idiot)
Language Myths is kinda funny as I found myself strapped for words on a previous global website.
Need to hold back on certain words and accept others
I intend to bring old English back on an educational basis at some time on my free days out site at some stage, until then,
you guys can catch us at 5705freedaysout in England (which omits one of the prettiest villages in England due to its unfortunate name)

james said...

Quite a few languages are spoken much more rapidly than I can understand...

Some languages have a higher syllable count, which will certain sound faster.

I will invoke a special theory of language relativity and claim that everybody but me has an accent. Though sometimes I find myself using an accent myself, so maybe that doesn't work so well.

Sounds like an interesting book, though. (How on earth do you know if someone will like a book if you don't read it yourself to be sure?)

Texan99 said...

I've always assumed that TV smoothed out a lot of regional variation, but my own experience of having a less distinct Texan or Southern accent than my parents had probably resulted more from a large influx of Yankees into suburban Houston in the 60s and 70s during the oil boom. Not that anyone here sounded quite like Johnny Carson or Walter Cronkite, but the Gomer-Pyle-Slim-Pickens effect was muted. Of course, we couldn't be confused with a taxi driver from Brooklyn, either. (And I'm sure none of us sounded as funny as those people from New Hampshire.)

I enjoy listening to the hilarious efforts of Hollywood to reproduce a Southern or Texan accent. It's probably like me imitating a Scot within earshot of a real Scot--or trying to talk like a Brooklyn taxi driver.

Tracey Ullman is fun to watch. Her ear for dialect is amazing.

lelia said...

Why is it a myth that some languages are harder to learn than others? I've tried to learn Japanese and Spanish. You will never convince me that Japanese is not harder.

Texan99 said...

Probably there's not much dispute that it's easier to learn a new language that's pretty close to your own language. The controversy is over whether some languages are inherently more difficult, without taking into account how close they are to the one you're starting from. I've seen an argument that I find pretty persuasive, which is that languages of people who've been quite isolated for a very long time tend to be very difficult to learn as adults: they can be chock full of all kinds of very difficult sounds and inflections and tones and voices and moods and the whole nine yards. Many of those quirks get dropped from languages that get handed around more as a lingua franca. But who knows? I've never learned anything but European languages with close ties to English. Linguists who've dug into obscure dialects from the Caucasus or the Amazon have more insight into the problem than I have.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Precisely. Language isolates are hardest to learn, and the Caucasus is on of the areas that has lots of them. New Guinea is another. Europeans learn each others' languages because of similar structure, and because contact has stripped them of some complexities. (Though Finnish, Hungarian, and Basque are exceptions to this.)

5705freedaysout said...

I see what may be going on here.
Syllable count
The whole thread is sort of in English though.
I guess from that though that English is the chosen one.
I could reply in various formats right down to Binary,which is pretty much all this thread is.
Then again I could reply in Cockney Rhyming slang which is enough to confuse most English speakers (not to mention some Scandinavian "English " speakers.)

So where are we atm?
Depends on if we see language as the spoken word or not.

(see what we did there ...)

5705freedaysout said...

I think a lot has been covered over the course of the thread Lelia.
My guess is that you picked up on the "Some Languages Are Harder Than Others" part of the op.
You kinda answered your own question there.
My guess is your native language is closer to English than Japanese.
Had your native language been closer to Japanese, you may have had more a problem trying to learn Spanish.

I guess the myth bit is that they may be as easy to learn, but to specific people. Those specific people would form part of the world, but thinking both inside and outside the box can work at times.
Best way I found to learn a language was to spend some time with the people.
2 weeks in a low star hotel eating from out of "Main Strip" bars might be ideal. Mix with locals.

Uncle Bill said...

Re: In the Appalachians They Speak Like Shakespeare. I don't know if this is really a myth or not, but several years ago a woman moved to our little burg in WV to study how closely the local dialect was related to Elizabethan English, for her PhD work. The theory was that a lot of Scots-Irish moved here (true), and then were so isolated that their version of English retained a lot of the old character.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Uncle Bill - Yep. That's the story they keep a-sayin' every decade for more than a century. Ain't true, though. Language isolates usually change more rather than stay static, especially if they are spoken more than written.

The myth comes because every dialect descendant of a language preserves some words and forms that the others drop. New England had some, Tidewater Virginia had some. But when a group is isolated it comes as a surprise to everyone else. "My stars! They still say a-feared and a-hopin' here! Why, that hasn't been heard in England since Elizabethan times!" Also, the people of that region, when they move to urban areas (Pennsylvania and Ohio since WWII), keep their old forms rather stubbornly, which draws attention to it.