Saturday, August 18, 2007

linguistic ignorance and real pedantic bliss

Mark Liberman, the proprietor of the wonderful Language Log (the group linguistics blog), has a great post on dropping gs which I somehow missed back in May when he wrote it. (It was pointed at hyperlinkishly in one of today’s entries.) It sums up an argument I’ve had countless times with self-appointed, and so-called, grammar mavens, both colleagues and strangers alike. There’s no g there to be dropped!

What is “g-dropping”? The term comes from the conventional orthography: -ing is written as -in’, as in she’s openin’ the door.

In fact, there is no “g” involved at all, except in the spelling. Final -ng (in English spelling) stands for a velar nasal, which is written in the International Phonetic Alphabet as an “n” with a hook on its right leg: [ŋ], a symbol called “eng”. The final -n’ in spellings like openin’ stands for a coronal nasal, which is written in IPA with an ordinary “n”: [n]. In IPA, opening is written as [ˈopənɪŋ], while openin’ is written as [ˈopənɪn]. The only difference in pronunciation is whether the final nasal consonant is velar (made with the body of the tongue pressed against the soft palate) or coronal (made with the blade of the tongue pressed against the ridge behind the front teeth).

Thus is “g-dropping” nothing is ever really dropped—it’s just a question of where you put your tongue at the end of the word.

If grammar mavens were actually such sticklers for and about language (code for The King’s English and not language in general), they’d learn a bit about linguistics so they at least could discuss the matter at hand intelligently, with a minimum of ambiguity, and unnecessary digressions, instead of resorting to such horrors as add-hoc phonological transcription schemes, misused Græco-Latinate grammatical terms, and the proud and willful ignorance of the processes of language change that have been studied for the past couple of centuries by historical linguists. Feh! At times, I feel I should develop a sort of motif-index of grammatical prescriptions à la Stith Thompson.



Blogger alienvoord said...

I wish people who claim to care about language would take the time to learn about the study of language. Linguistics needs better PR.

August 30, 2007 at 8:30 PM  

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