Should we hold back and give "simplified" responses?

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by moodywop, Jun 23, 2006.

  1. moodywop Banned

    Southern Italy
    Italian - Italy
    There is a lively debate going on in the Italian forum. I thought I'd post this here rather than in CD, since it has to do with the function and scope of WR forums.
    It is not my intention to start a futile discussion on descriptivism vs prescritivism. I'm just curious to know whether the issue has come up in the other forums and to find out how non-Italian foreros feel about it.
    I'll try to summarize the two conflicting positions (A vs B) as objectively as possible, although I will make it clear that I have sided unreservedly with position B).

    A) I puristi We should not confuse foreign learners with long discussions of current Italian usage where it is at odds with grammar "rules". The more extreme say that we shouldn't even mention current usage where it is deemed to be "ungrammatical".
    (Let me make it clear that we are not talking about controversial usage like "if he was" vs "if he were" in English. We're talking of the Italian equivalents of "I've got" vs "I have", "it's me" vs "it is I" or not ending sentences with prepositions. Some of the usages puristi foreros object to are recognized as correct by our Language Academy, made up of 60+-year-old highly-respected linguists. Even the word "forero" has come under attack - apparently we should use "forumista")

    B) As some of the non-native foreros have emphasized, basic "rules" can be found in any of the grammar textbooks foreros own or can find online.
    The beauty of these forums is that we can explore fine points of usage and semantic nuances that cannot be found in any textbooks(even in the most advanced ones - there is actually only one English-language advanced Italian grammar on the market).
    Furthermore we have some extremely proficient non-natives at IE, including two mods(Elaine and Jana), who obviously want more than the "basic rules". Some of them live or used to live in Italy.
    The more extreme puristi will not hear of "registers of formality". The "correct" form should be used in all contexts, from giving a lecture to casual conversation with close friends.

    I believe that, as long as different usages are clearly marked as formal, informal, casual etc, we should offer learners (at least the more advanced ones) responses that are as sophisticated and exhaustive as possible.

    If I haven't been objective (I guess I haven't:) ) in representing the two positions puristi are welcome to explain their point of view more accurately.
  2. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    We have experienced that from time to time in English Only. When I first arrived to the forums nearly a year ago, I considered myself much more a prescriptivist.

    As I have had the pleasure to read and engage in conversations regarding language and use, I have gained a much deeper appreciation for the richness of my language, and its many, many nuances and variances, both in my country and other countries who claim English as their primary language.

    English, of course, is not governed by a prescriptivist body like Italian, French and/or Spanish (RAE). I have had to learn to relax when it comes to registers I don't agree with, understanding they are part of the language's evolution. (I still don't agree with chatspeak as a legitimate language "form," but will probably have to get over that one day, as well).

    These forums, as I see them, are exactly for what you described in "b." They are for discussing the finer points of language, and not simply rote rule-quoting. Anyone can go look up the "rules," but to engage in discussion that helps broaden our minds and narrow our world just a bit - aye - therein lies the beauty of Word Reference.

    Beginning learners need simple rules. Advanced learners yearn for more. They want to understand origins from different dialect groups and gain a knowledge more profound than just ''because {x} authority says so."

    These Forums certainly have room for purists, but purists also need to understand there is an equal, and welcome, room for those who wish to let language evolve.

    As for forer@ - that was a neologism that was created here on these boards. That is our codification, if you will, that belongs strictly and uniquely to us. If they choose not to adopt it, then they are only hurting themselves.
  3. moodywop Banned

    Southern Italy
    Italian - Italy
    Thank you for your exhaustive reply, GenJen.

    I just wanted to make it clear that our Accademia della Crusca does not share the rigid prescriptivist approach of the French and Spanish academies, as I explained here in CD.
    My puristi friends find our academy to be too permissive *

    It would be interesting to find out why the strict "stick to the rules and forget about idiomatic usage" attitude is the dominant one at IE. My guess is that it is the result of the lack of a broad linguistic education in our schools (cf the lack of awareness of different registers) but this would belong in Cultural Discussions.

    * An article about the Academy and its 91-year-old honorary president(the foremost Italian linguista)
  4. french4beth

    french4beth Senior Member

    Couldn't have said it better, myself, GenJen! :thumbsup:

    I would prefer to explain things thoroughly and hopefully foresee any questions that the poster (or a non-native speaker) may have about the matter at hand. We all have dictionaries & grammar books, but if they were sufficient, WR would not exist! I usually try to anticipate what a forum reader would be thinking; maybe my posts are too long, but I'd rather give too much info rather than not enough. And we have an extremely diverse audience here in the forums; also, what we post today will be available to a wide audience in the future, so a thorough explanation of something can't be a bad thing, can it? ;)
  5. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    I am considering whether to move this, with prior permission from the CD forum mods, to the Cultural Discussions forum.

    From the standpoint of WR forum rules, language discussions are invited. That invitation is not subject to the limitations of those who would say, "There is one and only one correct way to _______." They may certainly say that, but in so doing may not constrain others from offering additional information about alternate usages.

    To give a more succinct (as if I were able) reply to Carlo's original question...both purist and other viewpoints are welcome here.
  6. moodywop Banned

    Southern Italy
    Italian - Italy
    That's an excellent point. Were I to have to confine myself to explaining regular and irregular plurals and conjugations I would quit the forum.
    I too have benefited enormously from the stimulating questions asked by forer@s like Lsp, Jana, Elaine, Erick, Elroy, Trentina, TimLA, Shamblesuk and countless others. I have appreciated nuances in tense usage, near-synonyms and so on that I had never stopped to consider. The unique perspective of being able to see the inner workings of my native language through the eyes of a foreign learner is what I find most enriching and enjoyable at WR.
  7. Elisa68 Senior Member

    Italy Language:Italian
    I vote for b).

    When I post a reply I try to give the whole picture (grammar, usage, dialect). We are not talking about an exact science here. We are talking about languages and languages evolve just as cultures.

    There is one thing that really upsets me: to read no, this is completely wrong, when it is not.
  8. Vanda

    Vanda Moderesa de Beagá

    Belo Horizonte, BRASIL
    Português/ Brasil
    Quoting French4beth:
    I've come to WR - and stayed- because of that: to learn what books and dictionaries don't teach us about language the way it's spoken everywhere! Anyone, those who passed all the known English Certificates exams and those who are learning the language (and here I include any other language; mine inclusive) can refer to the books. However, learning what lummox is (thanks Cuchu) and gralha (typo) is - a word from my own language, but used only in European Pt - that's just possible here.

    For the rest GenJen has said it magisterially!
  9. cyanista

    cyanista законодательница мод

    This issue keeps coming up in the German forum as well, so it has been addressed in the new "Rules of conduct".

  10. geve

    geve Senior Member

    France, Paris
    France, French
    Some people are fighting against this "it's incorrect full stop" trend in French-English too - I will not give any names ;) but they have my full support.

    It's funny, the last post I wrote (in this thread but it's in French) was on the exact same topic (I swear I had not seen this before!) An idiomatic expression was being discussed, and someone said "The meaning I gave is the only meaning that this idiom can have. Your understanding is wrong".
    I was the 4th (native) person to have this 'incorrect' (though based on a logical reasoning) understanding. I might be wrong to think that it means this - but it's interesting to know that there are people like me with this 'incorrect' understanding.
    This is not exact science, indeed. Language is a lively thing and so is a forum as opposed to a grammar book or a dictionary, so let's take advantage of it!
  11. moodywop Banned

    Southern Italy
    Italian - Italy
    This is not the issue at IE (which is why our mods have never felt the need to introduce such a guideline). Beginners who ask an elementary question are always given an explanation suited to their level. In the extremely rare cases where even an elementary query leads to issues of acceptability the thread is split and the more advanced discussion is moved to Italian Only, where beginners "fear to tread":) .

    The latest post in the ongoing debate at SI again states unequivocally that it is irresponsible to tell learners that "this is the correct form but most people say X". Apparently it would "confuse" them.
  12. Benjy

    Benjy Senior Member

    Milton Keynes, UK
    English - English
    I hate being patronised. Why would a non native be incapable of undertanding that X is for usuage in such or such a situation whilst Y is more suited to blah blah. It's almost akin to saying that either the learner is incapable of switching registers in his own language or that his own language doesn't possess them.

    I would look for instruction elsewhere if when I asked about the usuage of non standard french only to be told "you as a non native should never say this". ehm.. that's not what I was asking?
  13. maxiogee Banned

    The EO forum generally has a few grammarians who keep an eye on the rest of us. Most of us are reasonably aware of the basic grammatical rules and will mention that "xyz is alright in speech, but in a formal context one should be sure to … ". The grammarians will usually step in to explain why this is so.
  14. Etcetera

    Etcetera Senior Member

    St Petersburg, Russia
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    I vote for B.:)
    Whenever I ask a question here at WR, I expect to get as full answer as possible, including all the nuances, and when I'm answering somebody else's question, I try to give as full an answer as I can. All in all, you can always ask for details if you feel confused, can't you?
  15. I have had the experience both in French and Italian of learning the language in school then traveling to the country. When you do that you find that what you learned in school is understandable to natives, but often not at all the way they actually speak day to day. This just makes your attempts to speak the language even more amusing/annoying/pathetic to your listeners. How nice to find in this forum, instead, discussions of how the language actually is spoken on the street. In my answers about English to Italian questioners I always try to help out with the actual usage and what would "sound good" in the U.S. -- as well as what is correct in terms of grammar and syntax. When I have a question about Italian I have been lucky enough to get the same complete sort of response from Carlo and many others. I would NOT like to see that change.
  16. mimitabby

    mimitabby Senior Member

    usa, english
    I vote for B too.
    Nothing has been more infuriating to me in Italian classes to have a teacher who refuses to explain words or phrases that are in usage simply because they
    are not correct or :eek: polite.
    The fact is, they are being used, and when you go to a country with an edited understanding of the language, you will be at a loss in many encounters or situations.

  17. TimLA

    TimLA Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    English - US
    I strongly support a comprehensive approach to each question before the group. Obviously some questions can be answered very simply, but often there are very complex issues that need to be addressed for complete understanding. If I am answering a question in English, I attempt to give the answer in an appropriate context and with multiple, specific examples (often too multiple!). This is the way I would like my Italian questions addressed.

    When I first started on this forum, many of the Solo Italiano discussions were VERY VERY far above me, but now, after some months I can understand the vast majority of them. No, I don't need to know the nuances of 15th century Italian spoken in Southern Bologna during the winter :))) because I'll never use it -- but you know, it just might be interesting.

  18. Etcetera

    Etcetera Senior Member

    St Petersburg, Russia
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    It seems to me that it would be a good idea to start with giving the one who has asked a question some direct answer, and only then some additional information. But well, that's what we actually do in most cases.
  19. jmx

    jmx Senior Member

    Spain / incorrect Spanish
    The prescriptive-descriptive conflict appears from time to time in the Spanish forums, with the particularity that I seem to be the only defender of the descriptivist point of view. I guess many foreros from Spain think that descriptivism is in fact an invention of mine. The result is that I'm getting more and more radical about it.

    Foreros from other Spanish-speaking countries do not seem to be so fiercely prescriptivist as those from Spain.
  20. coppergirl

    coppergirl Senior Member

    London, England
    I agree with TimLA here and with everyone who has suggested that a broader approach to language usage is a more efficacious approach within the forums.

    As one of the beginners in I-E, I have found the more comprehensive explanations highly beneficial, particularly those which revolve around cultural issues and usage. Dictionaries are a start, but the whole advantage of having contact with natives is, in my view, precisely to flesh out some of the finer points of usage within the cultural context. If I want merely to know that "X" means "Y" I can use a dictionary. What I am after is not only what the word means but what it connotes in various contexts. That sort of a discussion often involves examining the issue from several different perspectives, often with some disagreement among natives as to the exact connotation within these various contexts.

    Also, I object to the notion that beginners are unlikely to be able to cope with complex explanations. Obviously if the question is a simple one, there is no point in overkilling it. However, if a discussion ensues precisely because something is not as cut-and-dried as it may initially seem, then it merits further exploration. It would be inadvisable, in my opinion, to limit the extent to which such usage questions might be explored. As a beginner, I have found the threads which delve deeply into the regional variations in usage and differences in connotation extremely interesting and helpful. Moreover, anyone who might find such discussions too complex could always either opt out of them at any point or ask for further clarification as they progress. :)
  21. Manuel_M Senior Member

    Speaking as a non-native learner of English and Italian, I can say that were these forums to limit themselves to offering only an explanation of the rules of the language, I wouldn't even bother to frequent them. Debates about usage are both useful and fascinating for anybody who truly wants to learn the language.

    However, were I a complete beginner I might find such debates confusing, and might possibly prefer to master clear rules and safe, conventioal usage first.
  22. Etcetera

    Etcetera Senior Member

    St Petersburg, Russia
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    You're right; but on the other hand, most forer@s are more or less advanced learners. And what's more, the more information a thread contains, the more interesting and useful it is for most learners.
  23. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    Something important we all need to remember. Generally, the tone of the post and the ability of the thread-starter is evident in not only his/her profile (number of posts, native language, location, etc.), but also in the actual post content.
    It's up to us to decide whether a prescriptivist or descriptivist approach is better.

    We can't assume that all posts should be answered the same way. Some are inherently more complex, others very simple.

    A precriptivist approach may be more appropriate in circumstances where "exact" grammar is asked for (verb conjugations, tense agreements, gender, etc.) Where prescriptivism needs to bend way for something more descriptivist is when someone wants more than just a textbook answer, and would like to know how a "native" might say something. How they say 'good morning' in Lucarno may be completely different from how it is said in Napoli, Florence, Sardenia, etc., etc., etc.

    Afterall, there is more than one way to skin a cat. This often applies to language, too!
  24. Etcetera

    Etcetera Senior Member

    St Petersburg, Russia
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    GenJen, you're right, as usual!:)
    However, if the thread-starter asks for something 'exact', and after two or three replies someone else asks for more information on the subject, then, I suppose, there may be further discussion of the subject, even though the thread-started has received their answer already...
  25. natasha2000

    natasha2000 Senior Member

    I agree SOOOO MUCH with this! I like to be told EVERY and SINGLE usage of some word or expression, and to debate and ask, ask, ask... until I am completely sure about all the meanings of it, and I feel comfortable and confident when using the expression I was asking about... If you live in a country of your second language, well, you are surounded with native speakers and you learn bu listening to them as well (asking, asking, asking, too, until they are fed up with you and ask you politely to p*ss off:D ), but one who does not have everyday's contact with native speakers, this forum is invaluable source of knowledge. Firstly, because most of their foreros are educated, and usually know how to explain if it comes to grammar, and secondly, they unselfishly overwhelm you with examples, so it must be something very technical or used only by three people if you don't get your question thoroughly answered. Debate is welcome, ofcourse, because, there are also cases when you are positive that someting is as you think, and then appears someone and with proofs and patience opens your eyes... Of course, IF you are open to "eyes opening":)....
  26. lsp

    lsp Senior Member

    US, English
    ... is the reason I'm here.

    Some of us are teachers, some have visiting relatives, some are linguists, some are planning vacations, some are in budding relationships, some want to be tattooed, ... who are these "purists" to determine which applies to me and/or what answer is best for me? I have a dictionary. I have grammar textbooks, and I have access to Google. Why then do I stick around this place? I still get more out of WR because native speakers can make the distinctions for me that those other resources can't, and thereby enrich my understanding and raise the level of my "real" fluency.

    As I posted in the original thread that initiated Moodywop's question to us here, I think we simply need to be clear in our explanations and label everything for what it is, as most of us already do, for example: colloquial, used more in writing than speech, dialect or regional, old-fashioned, technically incorrect but accepted, slang, off-color, business usage, industry term, and so on...
  27. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    I find it interesting so far no one has chosen option "A."
  28. lsp

    lsp Senior Member

    US, English
    You read my mind.
  29. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    In defense of the purists, they set a standard. Living languages typically, even in formal writing, vary a little or a lot around such standards. Therefore the impurists (me included) can observe, and share observations about fascinating variances, with other interested parties. Without knowing the 'pure' standard, discussions of variations would be less interesting, and would offer fewer insights.

    I'm glad to have both schools of thought in the forums. Still, the idea that there is only one possible way to express something in a living language is about as useful as claiming that any single religious perception is the only correct one.
  30. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    I'm a purist in some issues of English, but I'm still perfectly ready to say something like "it irritates the daylights out of me, but a lot of people say it." She might want to use one with her boss and the other with her daughter's pen pal. Who knows?

    For the specific issue you describe in Italian, I've found French to be surprisingly flexible, given the reputation of the French as purists in terms of language. There are clear category names for language registers (soutenu, litteraire, formel, familier, grossier) and I've found the natives to be very accomodating and comfortable in saying that yes, we'd say that in this register, but not that one. Does Italian have equivalent categories to frame your discussions?
  31. moodywop Banned

    Southern Italy
    Italian - Italy
    There is a distinction to be made here, at least as far as Italian purismo is concerned. Our Accademia della Crusca has always been purista - so much so that "cruscante" or "cruscaiolo" is a synonym for "pedant". However it has an open-minded approach that dogmatic purists lack. An example might clarify the difference. Here are two different responses - one given by the Academy's journal to a reader's query, the other by an IE "purista":

    Is fine settimana (weekend) a masculine or feminine noun?

    Academy: Gender-neutral English loanwords often have the same gender as the corresponding Italian word(when there is one). However one cannot speak of a "rule" here. It's usage that decides. Although fine is feminine weekend has always been used as a masculine noun. Possibly because fine settimana derives from weekend it is perceived as masculine by the wide majority of speakers

    IE response: Fine is feminine, therefore so is fine settimana. Il fine settimana is wrong

    (By the way, I'm 52 and I've never - ever - heard anyone say la fine settimana in my whole life. This kind of response would lead a foreign learner to use a form that 99% of Italians would find extremely odd)

    Another point to be made is that in Italy we have never had an H W Fowler, i.e. someone who, while caring about usage, had no time for "rules" based on Latin grammar which made no sense in English, such as not allowing a preposition at the end of a sentence(every example must be judged not by any arbitrary rule but on its own merits). Our academy has, to a certain extent, become our Fowler's, reinstating the correctness of structures used by our greatest writers from Dante onwards and dismissing the unfounded "rules" that have been handed down by generations of overpedantic schoolteachers. The extreme puristi still cling to what they were taught at school and are surprised to find out that the academy is not on their side.

    Of course it does! Let me quote our academy again:

    In many cases there is no clearcut "norm": it is often not a matter of establishing whether something is correct or not but rather of deciding whether it is appropriate to a particular register

    At school we are taught that register doesn't count. If a usage is "incorrect" we should always avoid it, whether we are writing a dissertation or discussing football results in a bar.

    One more example: regional accents. The Academy, which has always had a majority of Tuscans on its board, used to believe that ideally all Italians should adopt the Tuscan pronunciation recorded in dictionaries. It has abandoned this position. I unsuccessfully tried to explain to some IE strict purists that if I started using Tuscan sounds my fellow Southerners would - rightly - see me as an effete snob. I argued that the notion of "standard" can be applied to grammar and vocabulary but not to regional pronunciation variation. I even used Panji as an example (I hope you don't mind, Panji:) ). I said that if someone told Panji to drop his rhotic pronunciation and other non-RP sounds he would send them packing.

    One schoolteacher at IE(a Lombard herself) said that she tells off her students in a high school in Lombardy for using the local pronunciation of their town, rather than the Tuscan one (the only difference being a closed vs an open /o/). It's as if students in a Northern Irish/Scottish/Welsh town were told to pronounce the name of their town the way it's pronounced in Croydon! This is the kind of purism I object to.
  32. KaRiNe_Fr

    KaRiNe_Fr Senior Member

    France, Provence
    Français, French - France
    Hello there, I vote for A! :eek: :D
    No, of course it's a joke, as I'm badly positionned (?) to vote for A. ;)
    I learn here a lot because of natives and their diversity of approaches to give us what they know and what they feel. I'm glad to find here both A and B people!
    I tend to prefer B of course, and use it myself when answering as I would be only not capable to answer in a A way. ;) I tend to think with joke and humor learning is really much more easy. I know this point of view is not actually widely shared here, but it's part of my nature that I try to refrain... (but can't help sometimes!) :D
  33. Etcetera

    Etcetera Senior Member

    St Petersburg, Russia
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    I hold the same point of view!:)
  34. maxiogee Banned

    Maybe we don't vote for A in the same way that we don't all obey every single law in our countries - I cross the road wherever I feckin' well feel like it, and not at the traffic lights 50 yards away; I don't always wear a helmet when I'm cycling, sometimes it's too hot to do so; I lock my bike to railings which have notices saying "Do not lock bicycles to these railings!" —> I know I should do these things, but I can't be bothered. I'm a bad person!

    In voting for B, I am just acknowledging the realities of life!
  35. moodywop Banned

    Southern Italy
    Italian - Italy
    Well the point is that B) can accommodate the A) point of view, whereas the more extreme supporters of A) often give incomplete information by just saying that X is "incorrect" without adding that some/many/most scholars do not share their view.

    B) allows you to make fine distinctions. For example I often write:

    X wouldn't be used by any educated speakers and would get you a lower grade in an exam (eg replacing the subjunctive with the indicative)

    Y, though considered incorrect by some, is used by most Italians and perfectly acceptable in informal spoken/written Italian (eg the Italian equivalent of "I've got")

    Z is only considered incorrect by very few old-fashioned teachers but it is regarded as correct by all scholars and has been used by all our major writers
  36. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    How interesting! I did not realise that the Italian Academy is not prescriptivist. I just assumed that all Academies were like the Académie Française in its worse moments!

    As to puristi in the Fora, well, the approach is plain mendacious in my view. Proponents of B will deal with all aspects when necessary, including prescriptivism. C'est tout. And I've just been prescriptivist.
  37. moodywop Banned

    Southern Italy
    Italian - Italy
    Hold on! I wouldn't like them to sue me for misrepresenting their position:)

    They are indeed "prescriptivist" on weighty issues like preserving the subjunctive since they argue (rightly, in my view) that blurring the distinction between indicative and subjunctive would cause our language to lose the ability to express some subtle nuances. Theirs is a reasoned prescriptivism.

    On issues like the gender of loanwords, where there is no fixed rule, they have a pragmatic approach.
  38. DDT

    DDT Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Italy - Italian
    I think point B summarizes the "soul" of WR forums themselves, whose main point of interest is the possibility of discussing about living languages...well, that's my point of view ;)
    I remember an interesting thread about the use of "ne" in the negative form of a French phrase. Nowadays most French people just use "pas" - "ne...pas" being the standard compulsory form - in informal conversations. It is basically wrong and wouldn't allow a student to obtain a good mark. The thread itself led to a good explanation of the rule - both purists and impurists took part in the discussion - and of the common use in oral French.
    IMO discussions about current usage are the core of WR and help to understand which register is more appropriate according to the different circumstances

  39. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Thanks for the clarification, Carlo.
  40. lsp

    lsp Senior Member

    US, English
    This is the prototype for an ideal answer when there are nuances or variations (and illustrates why you are a favorite here :)). Cuchu and Max hit the nail on the head comparing the "a" answer to imposing one religion or one law.

    The lack of "a" voters in the discussion is a bit of a shame. It's like lecturing the class about tardiness right after the morning bell has rung - the latecomers are the only ones who won't get the message.
  41. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Yes, it is a shame, but perhaps they are convinced, no? How can they argue for cryogenics against a warm living thing?
  42. maxiogee Banned

    I love this.
    But, those who get the message are those who might be "inspired" to emulate the latecomers. A good lecture about tardiness would not only be one which targetted the latecomers, but also one which served "pour encourager les autres".
  43. Cnaeius

    Cnaeius Senior Member

    Italian, Italy
    I've noticed that in Spanish fora prescriptivism and "ipse dixit" often rule the answers. This gives (to my eyes of learner) a bit unrealistic image of Spanish language: a "monolithic" language, ruled by a sort of mathematics, in which the actual use is always and only driven by the rule. It is fascinating to a certain extent, but is it always useful?

    Thank you Carlo for the nice thread.
    But I don't know where to put myself. My personal approach is first giving the rule, then if it is needed or asked the actual use, taking into account my personal experience. The actual use is directly dependent on the speaker experience.
    Moreover I think that every approach in answering is useful to the learner, whenever the learner is perfectly conscious of the approch by which he is learning. So we have to help the learner to be conscious of the approach we use
    In conclusion I do not think at all that I am a purista, may I go into B category ? I hope so
  44. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Cnaeius, why not give examples of personal/colloquial usage even when not asked? Without, of course, going off-topic! It is a fine balance sometimes and something I have difficulty with - the not going off-topic aspect. One cannot give examples of usage in every street. However, I am convinced it is the best approach.

    I must say I am shocked at these experiences in the Spanish and Italian Fora. I say, launch an attack on the puristi's views now, otherwise nothing will change. It is simply not fair on learners not to.
  45. moodywop Banned

    Southern Italy
    Italian - Italy
    Thank you for your response, Cnaeius. For those who don't visit IE and SI, Cnaeius and Broca's Area are undoubtedly the two foreros who invariably provide a fresh perspective and stimulating insights by going beyond the cut and dried "rule".

    I don't see "prescritivism" and "descriptivism" as mutually exclusive. That's a misconception. Great British scholars like Randolph Quirk adopt a "descriptivist" approach in monumental works like A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language but that doesn't stop them from also writing usage guides where they provide "prescriptive" guidance. A dictionary is necessarily "descriptivist" in its coverage but often includes "prescriptivist" usage notes on ain't, hopefully etc

    I'd like to add something about "rules". The word has gained a negative connotation because it is often associated with pedantic prohibitions like "do not end a sentence with a preposition". However, the (admittedly Sisiphean) goal of descriptive linguistics is to come up with "rules" which will account for every possible idiomatic utterance in a given language.

    There are two problems here when dealing with a language like Italian, which, compared to the amazingly comprehensive descriptions available for English, still lacks a major, authoritative, corpus-based reference grammar. We have neither a grammar like CGEL nor even one* reliable learner's grammar/usage guide like Swan's Practical English Usage (the best of the hundreds available) - and not even a single learner's dictionary. Even we natives don't know where to look for guidance - which is why we are reduced to searching through the replies to reader's queries on the Accademia's website!

    That is why I think that approach B) is of paramount importance for learners of Italian. A learner of English can look up remember vs remind in countless learner's dictionaries/usage guides. A learner of Italian has nowhere to look except - no exaggeration - WR forums. The Italian imperfetto tense is a pain in the neck for all English natives. Even extremely advanced learners get it wrong. Grammar books provide a few hopelessly inadequate "rules". WR foreros can (and do!) ask us for hundreds of explanatory examples that will bring them a lot closer to mastering the use of the tense.

    Rules in learners' grammars are also extremely simplified generalizations. For example Italians are taught that they should simply switch from the Italian present to the English present perfect when talking of how long something has been going on, so as to stop them from saying :cross: I live here since 1980 instead of I've lived... However this incomplete "rule" leads them to say things like :cross: How long haven't you seen him?. It's not an "exception". BE learner's grammars cover such cases. The ones we use in our schools don't.

    *Well there is an English-language one that comes close but it wouldn't be right for me to do advertising here:)
  46. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    As far as I am concerned "descriptivist" covers "prescriptivist et al", but that doesn't take us far in the actual debate.

    I am shocked afresh by what you have said about lack of decent advanced grammars/usage books, Carlo. We English are spoilt.
  47. moodywop Banned

    Southern Italy
    Italian - Italy
    Well, Emma, it's only too understandable. The number of learners of Italian as a foreign language must be tiny compared to the number of EFL learners. The (financial and otherwise) resources available to researchers studying the English language are truly astounding.

    The other factor is the ancillary position of Linguistics in Italian academia. I was able to graduate in English without studying any modern linguistics. Mostly we studied literary history/criticism and my fellow students graduated without learning to speak fluent English. Even in our schools language teachers expect their pupils to memorize facts about English civilization/history/literature instead of teaching them the language (but that's a matter for a separate thread).
  48. Etcetera

    Etcetera Senior Member

    St Petersburg, Russia
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    What a familiar situation. I think we could open this new thread...
  49. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Yes, Carlo, I understand that Italian is not as widely learnt as English as a second language. I was referring to grammars etc for natives, not necessarily for foreigners. It seems that linguistics are not high on the agenda chez toi, so perhaps the prescriptivists are not used to being challenged, any challenge is culturally foreign to them?
  50. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Interesting discussion! I've been struck more than once by dogmatic statements that "X is incorrect" - especially when the context is "many speakers of standard Y say X , but even so X is incorrect".

    One of the crucial points about language is that it's changing all the time: many usages idiomatic 20 years ago are no longer idiomatic, and many of today's usages would not have been accepted by our parents' generation.

    I tend to use descriptors such as "standard/non-standard" rather than "correct/incorrect". What do other foreros do?


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