Re: Joining FoRK?

Alexa Champion (
Wed, 4 Aug 1999 14:15:56 -0100

Jeff writes:
>Okay, okay. I may have been too general, there... I'll certainly defer
>to your expertise, as I only had a single semester course in
>linquistics. But, I'm sure you'll agree that noun gender doesn't
>particularly add much if any semantic value ("expressivity?") to a
>language. The trend does certainly seem to have been towards
>simplification along grammar lines wherever possible without losing
>significant semantic value. (Right?)

<<<I'm writing without reflecting which is usually a bad idea. But here
goes: I think that whether or not a noun/pronoun/verb gender indicator
"adds" expressivity is subjective. As a writer, I find any language tool to
be both liberating and confining, depending on how one utilizes it.

The "trend" is, I think, a hard thing to define. Academic writing takes one
specific bent, journalism another, technical jibber jabber another, online
quipping (i.e., this) yet another, conversation--alas, probably what you are
referring to, takes another.

I guess it depends to what context you are referring.

>On the other hand, the trend seems to have been towards specialization
>and disambiguation with the creation of new (or refinement of old)

well, consider all the hypenated Americans, the various euphemisms we now
use for basic activities. George Carlin did a great stand up about this
same topic.

and this is largely context-driven: think of all the Eskimo
>words for snow, for example. In the case of person-identifiers
>(pronouns and whatnot) the trend has demonstrably been towards
>increasing specialization: consider that the Old English word "gurle"
>(girl) originally referred to a young person of either gender; this was
>sufficiently ambiguous that boy came into more common use (etymology,
>anyone?) and girl began to refer only to young females.
>While we're on the topic of linguistics, "ain't" and "y'all" have always
>seemed to me to be particularly efficient and useful linguistic
>innovations rather than degenerative hickisms. "Ain't" is more
>linguistically efficient than the contraction "isn't" with its horrific
>consonant combination, and y'all is both more efficient (easier to say,
>less syllables) than "you all" and less ambiguous than the
>confusingly-multipurpose singular / plural "you."

The linguistic elitism that nixes "ain't" and "y'all" is doing so precisely
because of the "efficiency" of those words. Linguistic purists believe that
Standard English must be preserved and therefore, degrade any derivation of
the "Standard"--with capital S. Pragmatics studies the way in which people
actually use language and is the camp where I do most of my work.