language and mind

November 5, 2011

The gray matter or the grey matter?

Filed under: language, language use — teresapelka @ 12:52 pm

The Corpus of Contemporary American English has more than 26 thousand examples for ‘gray’ and about only 3.5 thousand for ‘grey’. The latter would be often a proper noun or belong with some history context ( Both are accepted variants in contemporary American. So far so good for the gray matter. :)

Allegedly, things could go much worse with tables. If you ‘tabled it’ in American, you’d lay it aside. If you ‘tabled it’ in British, you’d want to start discussing it. As the endured rumor has had it, Americans were confused during World War II over this possible aspect of one’s desk habits.

There have been many myths about differences between the American and British varieties of English. The ‘language divide’ has been aggrandized to monstrous proportions, called forth even along with nuclear weapons. The ideologies behind artificial languages, like Esperanto, have promised to bring the peace and understanding that natural languages purportedly could not afford.

If to blame language for making war, why not wait for it to bring you a glass of water. I mean, should languages have the powers of human agencies, this would be much less effort, if to think about doing anything for real. Probably, no one would risk their fluid balance while ascribing action to language on its own.

Propagandas having tried to utilize languages for centuries in this human history, the notion of standard American English would suffer from the fortunately non-prevalent ambition to determine and direct the course of language development. General American English is a notion coined to avoid that of Standard American English. ‘The Standard could be classism’. ‘The Standard could prescribe’. Finally, ‘the Standard could disqualify’.

Well, but a ‘general language’ level could be something up to 30 thousand words and not more? :(

A language standard could be a range of speech sound as well as written qualities recognized as representative of an autonomous language variety. I mean, there could be a range of speech and written qualities recognized as American. The term ‘range’ is to denote an accepted spectrum, not fixed or prescribed values.

There is probably no sense denying the fact that America is not only some ‘united states’. America is an autonomous country, or at least this is the expectation of the majority of Americans.

‘I am an American, my readers are mostly American, and American English is quickly becoming an international practice’, says Paul Brians, Professor Emeritus of English, Washington State University. A dignified statement I have pleasure quoting.


I promptly wrote the Professor about a matter of emotional quality and worth. In my language work, I happened to be a replacement teacher. In one of the schools, during recess, two young boys started having a heated dispute over popularity. ‘You’re not popular!’ – ‘No, you’re not popular!’ – the repeated exchanges drew my attention. I asked what the problem might have been. Another boy told me I probably didn’t know what a pupa was.

‘Here we’re concerned with deviations from the standard English as judged by sophisticated users such as professional writers, editors, teachers, and literate executives and personnel officers’, says the Professor.

The class I have mentioned was an ESL. Yet, the boys were in their acquisition age and used English lexical items. It is not difficult to imagine how things might have gone, had they been discussing anything like ‘deviance’. Instead, I admitted I might have had no idea about some particular instance, but I was sure words always could have more than one meaning. The boys took it on.

Well, there is no standard Latin. There is classic Latin. Having the notion of a standard for separate from that of a criterion is impossible. For example, should a British dialect be a deviation from standard British, the Received Pronunciation could become qualified as an aberration from the criteria of ancient Latin practice whenever one would hear ‘table’ instead of ‘tabula’ in the House of Lords. ;)

The term ‘deviance’ is most frequent in British linguistics. That’s up to the boys and girls from the UK and the Commonwealth to debate. Me, I’m definitely off. :)

Related links:

Not only my linguistics is uncomfortable with the term ‘deviance’. Psycholinguistics, as the generic title of this blog might suggest, specifies on terms such as impediment, delay, or impairment.

If defined as a departure from standard language behavior, the term ‘deviance’ would imply disorder about bilingualism. Monolingualism happens to have statistic prevalence. The Oxford Journal would overlook the implication. This could only go for ‘declasse‘ with many natural speakers of contemporary languages. :)

I employ the term ‘default’ when speaking about error. The lexical item may imply ‘failure to do something, failure to appear at the required time’, or an ‘automatic’ selection made ‘without active consideration due to lack of a viable alternative’. The ‘default’ would not have the artificial intelligence implication of a set variable. Defaulting humans do not have their errors for their cognitive variables. To err is human. Not to err is human, too. :)

I got the Professor’s answer. He considers the term ‘deviance’ more neutral. I will stay by my terminology.

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