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Mistakes made by native speakers - are they mistakes or not?

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by tFighterPilot, Jun 21, 2012.

  1. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
    << Moderator note: moved from a thread in the Hebrew forum. >>

    It's not a mistake if native speakers say it.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2012
  2. dukaine Senior Member

    madison heights, mi
    english - american
    I don't know about that. Natives speak their own language incorrectly all the time.
     
  3. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
    A person can't speak his own language incorrectly, otherwise you could say not a single person in the world speaks his language correctly since the way they speak it is different than what their ancestors spoke a thousand years ago.
     
  4. dukaine Senior Member

    madison heights, mi
    english - american
    Once can, however, speak a standardized language incorrectly. But that's for another thread.
     
  5. arielipi Senior Member

    Israel
    Hebrew
    Please autopilot, dont you hear people mistake with numbers+sex? tozizi tokrivi, there are many mistakes and people sure do make them alot.
     
  6. David S Senior Member

    Richmond, VA, USA
    English - US
    In my opinion, if educated people regularly use an "incorrect" word or expression, even if only in casual conversation with their close friends and family, then it is NOT a mistake.

    The example of "zoti" (vs. the more prescriptively correct "zot") was brought up in a thread where a university professor used it in a lecture:
    http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=1652055

    The President of France might say something like "C'est pas lui" (omitting the NE), hence this is NOT incorrect French, however one could say that it is an expression that might only be found in Conversational French.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2012
  7. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    If native speakers agree something is a mistake, it's a mistake, even when said by other native speakers. Languages need some minimum amount of standardization. Otherwise it cannot serve its purpose as a means of communication.
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2012
  8. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
    But two people speak to each other with the same "mistake" that they don't even notice? For example saying "you and me" instead of "you and I". Is it still a mistake then?
     
  9. jawiljebrood New Member

    Dutch (The Netherlands)
    What do you define as a mistake? Can a mistake be saying something 'wrong' when one does not know it is wrong, or only when one is aware it is wrong?
     
  10. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
    I don't think anyone knowingly talks wrong. Sometimes people confuse words and correct themselves immediately after, I am of course not talking about that.
     
  11. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    I've been working with alot afrcan americans in my new job and I've been thinking about this. I was in brazil teaching english and coming back to the US hearing people speak with so may errors bothers me. At the same time it's part of the their cuture and the only reason it's "wrong" and my english is "correct" is a matter of standard. So basicly I'm not sure.
     
  12. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    As long as there is a consensus it is a mistake, it is a mistake. As soon as people agree this to be correct, it is language evolution. E.g. once He saw you and me was correct and You and I saw him was wrong. Correct was Ye and I saw him. Then you in the nominative became considered correct.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2012
  13. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    Of course if something does not conform to some rules of standard grammar and usage, it is a mistake, even if a native speaker says it or a group of native speakers say it. There are some expressions which don't follow strict grammar rules but they have been conventionally used for years in this form and are considered idiomatic expressions. Those are not mistakes. Just regular wrong usage of a word or grammatical structure by a native speaker is a mistake.
     
  14. perevoditel Junior Member

    LilianaB: :thumbsup:
    Actually, now I felt like in school with kids arguing with their mother-tongue teacher: if they heard something on TV or from an older person, it has to be right. I could actually say that I speak better Polish then most of TV presenters, and they're (together with actors and politicians) main reason of mistakes in commonly-used language.
     
  15. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    Yes, many more local languages --more local than English-- are deteriorating, because many people in those countries use English more often which has an influence on their own language. There are also new idiolects around, which was less common, I think, in the past, although this is just my own observation. Native speakers make mistakes, it is true. Some of those mistakes which keep being repeated over and over become idiomatic expressions.
     
  16. Copperknickers Senior Member

    Scotland - Scots and English
    It depends entirely on the context. If you are in a context of standard British English and you start talking in some Jamaican dialect, you are wrong. If you are merely speaking to friends or with people from your area in a local dialect, then you can hardly be 'incorrect'.
     
  17. perevoditel Junior Member

    @LilianaB: 100% agree. It is very noticeable in Scandinavia with its escalation of dialects, where dialectal forms become to be used in official speeches etc...

    @Copperknickers: "when in Rome, do as the Romans do"?
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2012
  18. Copperknickers Senior Member

    Scotland - Scots and English
    Quite so, perevoditel. And I feel that in that spirit, I should tell you that 'when in Rome, we do as the Romans do'. :)
     
  19. perevoditel Junior Member

    Oops. Corrected. Sorry, too much Norwegian in last time ;)
     
  20. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    I've been hearing way too much "you and I" as the direct object of a verb: He saw you and I at the concert. It drives me crazy. Even when everyone says it, it will still be a mistake.
     
  21. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
    I think that would count as "hyper correction". People think of "you and I" to be generally more correct than "you and me" so they even use it when it's the object. As a non native English speaker who learnt English mainly from TV, video games and at later phase the internet, whatever sounds right to native American English speakers would probably sound right to me, so I'm quite likely to confuse "you and me" with "you and I" as well. If you look at all the weird rules some languages have, there's little doubt that many of them came from mistakes such as this one which became official.
     
  22. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    I agree. Finally, if I speak English "my way" then we could say, depending on our point of view:
    1. My English is incorrect, because the others consider it mistaken
    2. My English is linguistically correct, but then it's a different language/dialect/variant ..., and not what we call English (by consensus)
     
  23. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)

    I agree on both counts.
     
  24. tonyspeed Senior Member

    JA- English & Creole
    Each person, family, community has their own unique standard of speech.

    If a person's speech is correct according to any one of those standards it is correct. So the question really is: according to which standard?

    If the expectation is set for a certain standard and that standard is not followed, then it can be considered incorrect.
     
  25. tonyspeed Senior Member

    JA- English & Creole
    In Jamaica, we don't speak a dialect, we speak a Creole. Please stop perpetuating this prejudiced nonsense.
     
  26. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    If a speaker of Jamaican English speaks in accordance with the rules of usage and grammar, but probably even more of usage, of Jamaican English, he or she does not speak English with mistakes, but rather Jamaican English.
     
  27. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    That sounds reasonable. There are many versions of English. The lightweight metal is "aluminum" in AE, "aluminium" in BE, with the other being an error in both cases. What, however, of someone who writes "aloominum? Is that not universally an error? Even if it is written by a native speaker, is it not still an error? I would say it is. If that spelling becomes adopted by many people, it may eventually be considered correct, but it isn't today.

    The real question is about that awkward stage where it's on the way to being accepted. How many people have to write "aloominum" for it to become correct? For that matter, in the absence of a governing body for the English language, who is to say that it is correct? Several years will go by between its acceptance by one serious dictionary and its acceptance by all of them. Or, at what point does "website" become an acceptable alternative to "Web site?" I don't know.
     
  28. LiseR Junior Member

    Riga
    Latvian
    In Latvia, we often have this issue - there are some expressions, which are not gramatically incorrect but they would make no sense for an immigrant of for a person who lived here 200 years ago. Some of them are a direct translation from Russian and lately from English, for example some would say something like 'what do you have in view?' = what do you mean? from что ты имеешь в виду? and so on.
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2012
  29. cloudgazer

    cloudgazer Senior Member

    Inglés
    Some might enjoy listening to Stephen Fry's 22 Dec 2008 podcast "Language" (length: 33m 9s). Boing Boing gives a brief review under the title "Stephen Fry on the beauty of 'incorrect' language and the *snip* futility of linguistic pedantry" here. Fun and insightful :)
     
  30. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
    Yes, very good, that's exactly what I was talking about. True linguists should appreciate changes that occur in a language.
     
  31. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    As things stand, the use of "you and I" as the direct object of a verb cannot be said to conform to the canons of standard English. However, I do not think we can say that it will never be correct.

    Consider the sentence: I was given a book. No one is going to argue that that is incorrect standard English. However, analysis shows that the subject of the sentence is "book" and that "I" is the indirect object. Turn the sentence round and you cannot say: *A book was given (to) I. You have to say: A book was given (to) me. The reason why I was given a book arose is easily explained.

    Many speakers who may say: John took Mary and I out to dinner would never say: *John took I and Mary out to dinner.
    John took Mary and I out to dinner is no more than a continuation of the drift there has been in English from synthesis to analysis. The "and" after "Mary" is enough to break any idea that the first person pronoun which follows it needs to be "me". Whilst the day may a long way off, we cannot rule out the possibility that eventually John took Mary and I out to dinner will be considered acceptable and even one day the only acceptable form - just as I was given a book is now considered acceptable and *Me was given a book is no longer considered acceptable. Any language is a convention and there has to come a point where when a change is accepted by the majority it becomes correct. To hold otherwise to believe that language change only happens in the past.

    The question posed here can be cast in two different forms.

    If we ask: Do some native speakers of a language when using the standard version of that language say things that do not conform to the currently and generally accepted conventions of the standard version? the answer is clearly "yes".

    If we ask: Do some native speakers of a language when using their own variety of that language say things that do not conform to that variety? the answer is both "yes" and "no".

    It is "no" because in a given speech community at any given moment language is a convention that everyone accepts. If you do not follow the convention you risk being misunderstood.

    It is "yes" because it is an inescapable fact that language changes and any change must start off as a "mistake".

    The paradox is resolved in practice because change takes place at such a speed that one generation always understands the generation that precedes or follows it. The purpose of language - communication - remains paramount.

    Of course you need to ask what you mean by "own variety" and "speech community". At one extreme you have all the speakers of a language (however you define language) considered together and at the other the idiolects of all those speakers. In the context of this thread neither extreme is a useful object of study, but you still have to decide at what level you pitch your enquiry. The best you can do when studying a given level is simply to note the differences you find.
     
  32. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Interesting analysis. Well put. You clearly prove your point. Grammar is forever changing and the process is unstoppable. The fact that it's no longer studied in schools probably will make the process accelerate.

    This makes me think of another example where social use might have prevailed over logic.
    People now say "aren't I?" instead of "*amn't I?" or "am I not?" Clearly it's wrong. They would never say "are I?" or "I are".
    Probably some time ago "*amn't I?" (I'm not sure if this form ever existed. Now it obviously doesn't) changed to "ain't I?" There is actually some logic for the use of "ain't" in this case yet unfortunately it gained a vulgar connotation, a very uneducated ring to it, probably when some speakers extended the use of "ain't" to mean "isn't, aren't, haven't, don't, doesn't". I remember a teacher writing on the chalkboard in big letters "Ain't is not a word in English!" So they created the "aren't I?" forms that are equally incorrect but socially sanctioned.

    Maybe English should have an academy like French and Spanish. It might bring about some order or coherence.
     
  33. Arath Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    Language is a means of communication. Anything that causes miscommunication, even between native speakers, is a mistake. I'll give an example in Bulgarian, because we have T-V distinction.

    If speaker A doesn't use the polite V form when addressing speaker B, and speaker B interprets that as rudeness, although speaker A doesn't intend to be rude, then it's a mistake, because there is a misunderstanding.
     
  34. Ironicus Senior Member

    English & Swahili - East Africa
    Wolfgang Pauli would have said this is not even wrong. I concur.
     
  35. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    In present it's "I am given a book" and not *"I is given a book". So which is the subject? ....

    Moderator note: Further discussions on this topic can be found here.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  36. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    I am given a book??? Doesn't sound right.
    I am being given a book. Better
    I have been given a gook. Better still

    Try it with a more natural sentence and context.
    I am being presented to the queen tomorrow. yes
    I was presented to her.

    The subject is book.... The book has been given to me. I have been given the book. (It would certainly seem more grammatical to say "To me has been given the book" but it's no longer possible to start a sentence in English with "to...me, to... you, to... her")
    In my sentence the subject is indefinite or unknown. Someone is presenting me to the queen tomorrow.

    EDIT:
    "I am" instead of "I is".... probably just automatism comes into play. "I is" does not sound right in any context so people naturally switched it to "I am". This is obviously not logical

    Moderator note: Further discussions on this topic can be found here.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  37. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    I wanted to use the simplest possible example ... Though e.g. "I am given a book by the teacher" may be acceptable ... (I've found a lot of occurrences also on the net).

    But the substance of the "contradiction" can be shown using your example:

    I am being presented to the queen - it is me (I) who is presented, that's why I am ....
    I am being given a book - it is the book that is given, inspite of I am ...

    Moderator note: Further discussions on this topic can be found here.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  38. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    Not clear what you are saying is not wrong. If it is *A book was given to I then it is not correct standard English. It is however perfectly acceptable in some varieties of English.

    Moderator note: Further discussions on this topic can be found here.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  39. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    Whilst one cannot necessarily make a hard and fast distinction between the two, there is a difference between being grammatically correct and using socially correct forms. If speaking a language with a T-V distinction you say to someone: "You are standing on my foot" and use the wrong from you have communicated what you want to say even if you cause offence.
     
  40. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    <...>

    Moderator note: Contents moved here.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  41. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    <...>

    Moderator note: Contents moved here.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  42. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    <...>

    Moderator note: Contents moved here.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  43. francisgranada Senior Member

    Slovakia
    Hungarian
    It is rather a philosophical question, but I tend to say that in languages not. I.e. not everything is possible, or at least, not every "solution" is stable enough to survive. In other words, the genetically codified property of the human capacity "to speak" implies a fundamental logic in the "background" (even if not always fully understood), otherwise it could not be functional (and our discussions on this forum would be about "rules" given by authorities and not about languages).

    Thus, if I am right, not whatever grammatical construction is possible or functional. I wouldn't like to be misunderstood: I do not contradict to Hulalessar's explanation, I only think that there is something more "behind" the English constructions like "I was given ..." (that's why I think that it could be discussed in a separate thread).
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2012
  44. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Norway
    Polish
    Yes, a native speaker can speak his/her language incorrectly, and most people do it everyday. The most common are lexical mistakes, when people change the meaning of a word because they have never learned the correct, or precise meaning of it. It happens mostly with more learned words, but also with quite common word. The users can often argue that “that’s how we speak in our family, neighbourhood, village”, but then they have to concede that the “language” they speak is not the same as in another family of neighbourhood. But, if many people make the same mistake repeatedly, and it eventually gets into general use, that is more than 50% of speakers begins to use the word, then the mistake becomes a norm (but still usually not accepted by older people). Let’s take the example of Vulgar Latin, where people began to use the word “testa” (cooking pot) for a “head”, instead of “caput”. First it was a joke, and youth slang, but then everybody began to speak so in Italy and Gaul. That’s why we have “tête” in French and “testa” in Italian. The Iberians never accepted this joke, and made their own word “cabeza” from “caput”. A native speaker makes a language error when he/she is not understood correctly by another speaker of the same language. The problem occurs if we try to define what “the same language” is. Here we have just extremely fuzzy transitions to face.
     
  45. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    This cannot be literally true. As noted in another thread, if two Germans enter a hotel room and one declares: "Liebe Gott! Die Decke ist dreckig!" he may may be referring the blanket being dirty but the other may look up at the ceiling, "drecke" in German meaning both "blanket" and "ceiling".

    As a general proposition, we can say that only learners (be they children or foreigners) make mistakes. Adult native speakers have the grammar of the variety they use completely internalised and know what all the words in general use in their speech community mean; they know and have control of the conventions. This does not mean that when in a heightened emotional state they do not get mixed up and get things wrong. Further, if people are "guilty" of solecisms, barbarisms, malapropisms and the like it is only because they have wandered into unfamiliar territory.

    This still leaves us with the conundrum of how to explain language change except in terms of earlier "mistakes" because if generation A following generation B does something different from generation B, generation B will regard it as a mistake, assuming it notices it. To Cicero, and indeed the man who supplied Cicero's vegetables, all the Romance languages would be mangled Latin. The best you can do is when investigating the history of a language to think in terms of change, but when looking at a language at a given moment in time to note differences.
     
  46. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    I don't agree with you Hulalessar. Adult natives speakers make many mistakes as well, maybe more as far as word usage is concerned than grammatical structures, although that happens, too. It is a myth that the competence of a native speaker is perfect and fully developed at a certain time in his or her life, and that it also cannot be lost to a certain extent. It is not like walking - perfect, and you cannot lose it, only perhaps due to some kind of disease or accident.

    It may be less noticeable if you are thinking about English native speakers only. There are so many thesauri, dictionaries, word references on the internet, that the level of English among native speakers might be higher than if you take other languages into consideration.
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2012
  47. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Norway
    Polish
    This is a theoretical assumption, and can only be true of an abstract "adult native speaker". In practice there are few people that don't make mistakes in their own language. As I said, the mistakes are mostly of lexical character (many words are used just on random, without the speaker ever knowing what the word was supposed to mean), but individually diverging use of grammar rules is not uncommon. You can't say that an individual person has his/her own language with own rules!
    One of the examples of "highly educated people" not knowing what they say is a collection of citations of a well known politician and statesman.
     
  48. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    I agree with you. This has been my observation as well, and this causes a lot of problems for me as a translator.
     
  49. Hulalessar Senior Member

    Andalucía
    English - England
    But what is a "mistake"? It seems to me that the sort of mistakes that LilianaB and Ben Jamin are referring to come within what I refer to as wandering into unfamiliar territory. Is "individually diverging use of grammar rules" not likely to amount to no more than idiosyncrasies of style or some consciously adopted quirks designed to express one's individuality? As for the politician, one has to suspect that on one occasion in the heat of the moment he used the wrong word and it was picked up and that he subsequently made deliberate errors to cultivate an endearing image - either that or he moved into unfamiliar territory and kept getting it wrong. Describing a dolphin as a fish is not a mistake of language, but an error in taxonomy.

    One difficulty is that those of us who discuss these topics in forums such as this will of necessity be highly literate. That implies a "good education" a significant part of which will have been devoted to learning rules which become deeply ingrained. Even if one accepts that non-standard varieties of language ought not to be characterised as inferior, it is still difficult not to shake off notions of correctness. For myself, I cannot help cringing when I hear people say "I done" or "we was".

    The problem with regarding a difference as a mistake is that, looking at a language diachronically, you may come to see it as a series of incorrect versions. Writ large, Middle English is nothing but one huge mistake coming between Old English and Modern English; indeed, the very word "middle" implies some intermediate unstable stage. However at any given moment a language is a stable complete system even if it allows differences; if it were not, communication would be rendered difficult and, despite language change being inevitable, communication is never compromised.
     
  50. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    A mistake is hat people regard as a mistake. There is no linguistic definition for it.
    I wish you wouldn't use such categorical terms. That makes it bit difficult to agree on the facts on which to base the discussion. Of course communication is difficult and misunderstandings happen all the time and of course communication is compromised all the time and much more often than we would like.

    This is like the the discussion in philosophy of science where philosophers for centuries regarded it as a primary question in epistemology to ask How and why can we be sure of what we know? whereas the simple fact is that we aren't and the very question doesn't make sense and therefore couldn't be answered. The real question is: How and why can do science without certain knowledge and how and why is it nevertheless useful?
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2012

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