Date: Fri, 24 Feb 1995 19:33:35 EST
From: Terry Lynn Irons t.irons[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]MSUACAD.MOREHEAD-ST.EDU
Subject: Re: Looking for some useful arguments
Vicki Rosenzweig writes,
Can anyone suggest an argument that will convince copyeditors
(of whom I am one, but a somewhat atypical one) that we/they can't
decide to change the language, and neither can an ad agency or
the US congress, because there are a half billion speakers of English,
and we're only a few hundred people on the copyediting mailing list?
Vicki's question is extremely important, for it resonates in several
contexts. An answer to her particular question requires
looking at the assumptions/implications of her question and the
motives/goals of her copyeditor audience. Her question assumes
that "we/they can't decide to change the language, and neither can
an ad agency or the US congress." Yet language change occurs, and
the change is connected in some way to some innovation by some member
of some social network. Ad agencies HAVE affected the lexical
phraseology of contemporary speakers of English, and some of those
lexical changes will stick. Just do it.
In a larger critical sense (a la Foucault), the discourse of
consumerism, emanating from ad agencies, affects not only our
language, but also controls the subject positions within
which we find ourselves.
Language planning--shaping attitudes and behaviors of language
use--goes on every day in the educational institutions of this
country as well as others. Even though these educators may not
change what people do in specific cases, they certainly shape
what people think of what they do. And in many cases we do
change what people do.
So the basic assumption of Vicki's question may turn out
to be wrong.
Even though there may be more like a billion users of English
for whatever purposes, the language behavior of a few can have
a significant impact on the norms of the language (ALL OF THIS
QUESTION RELATES TO STYLE, NOT THE UNDERLYING REPRESENTATIONAL
SYSTEM THAT MAKES LANGUAGE POSSIBLE) in certain formal public
contexts. So that brings us back to the goals of copyeditors.
If they want to ferret out especially pernicious sexist
language, I am all for them. Their specific edittings may not
change behavior, but the discussion of the issue will have some
effect over time. And as a result, the language may change.
It really sounds like these copyeditors favor something that
Vicki doesn't agree with. If she were more forthcoming,
some one of us might could be more helpful.
Terry Lynn Irons t.irons[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]msuacad.morehead-st.edu
Voice Mail: (606) 783-5164
Snail Mail: UPO 604 Morehead, KY 40351