Thursday, October 28, 2010

Do You Speak American? On Freelance Gatekeepers

Chad's post and comments reminded me of this page, which I had come across some years ago. Here are passages from the essay:
Differences in patterns of language use are normal, not evidence of social decline. Diversity is everywhere—in the most educated speech communities and in languages that have never been written down. In fact, we learn long before formal instruction that different speech situations call for different styles.…
What’s more, the very notion of a single standard of correctness in language is quite recent. “Correctness” is based solely on a purist’s own notion of what is socially or culturally correct: if it's not in, it must be out. A language purist works from a list of exceptions to the rule, [whereas] ordinary speakers follow a hierarchy of patterns that reveal analogical similarities.…
Gatekeepers want to keep insiders in and (perhaps even more important) outsiders out by opening and closing a real or imaginary gate. Many organizations have people or departments whose function is to let you (or lock you) in or out—ticket takers, prison guards, admissions officers, personnel managers and so on. Society also has freelance gatekeepers, who have decided—based on their own strong feelings—that some people or behaviors or beliefs or words are wrong and should be kept out. Gatekeeping is an exercise of authority, even if the authority is only imagined.
A related page has this comment:
Many Americans fear that continuous Hispanic migration, and large concentrations of Spanish speakers, threaten American English. That fear is one motive behind the so far unsuccessful campaign to make English our official language. Do You Speak American? argues that Mexican and other Hispanic migrants are learning English at the same generational rate as previous immigrants groups. By the second generation many can no longer speak Spanish.
It seems to me that if we make the survival of "pure" English dependent on the loss or disappearance of other languages, we will have gained little and lost much.

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