Posted: Oct 15, 2012 12:26 pm
by Zwaarddijk
A MUSING ON SOCIOLINGUISTCS

Not only is language used to communicate ideas, commands, suggestions and gossip, we also use it to figure things out about others as well as to tell others things about ourselves. The things we often tell about ourselves include class (or what class we want to be mistaken for), education and (ethnic and geographical) background.

Very often when someone complains about bad grammar (or bad pronunciation - the entire "nucular" thing is actually an example of people being very judgmental twats), what they're doing is really judging on the basis of sociolect. This kind of judging basically is a way of disapproving of the existence of an entire social class, by the way. The reasoning is probably along the line that bad grammar is proof of laziness: these people have not gone to the effort of acquiring proper grammar and not acquiring it is lazy and rude. However, many "proper" languages have a history of developing even more labyrinthine grammatical shibboleths whenever the plebeians have acquired too much of it - a class marker is no good once the lower classes can pass the test! Who would buy armani, if everyone wore armani?

If the plebeians speak properly, speaking properly isn't good enough so the line usually is redrawn subconsciously by the upper classes at some feature of speech where it will take even more resources to acquire it, until a large enough subpopulation can't acquire it - this is pattern matching: we find a pattern that the poor don't have and one the rich do have (or vice versa), and then start hating on the poor for (not) having that pattern - such a behavior basically is blaming people for having a trait, and the trait is blameworthy because it's a trait those people have! If the lower classes were really actively acquiring "proper grammar", it would end up as an arms race where the lower classes' linguistic habits could be entirely decided by the upper classes - a very undemocratic situation.

So, whenever you hear someone complaining about bad grammar, well, now you know they're basically being intolerant of the fact that some people have not managed to become rich. Please tell them what insufferable gits they are.