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Linguistics Bicentennial Colloquium

Anne Curzan, University of Michigan
Friday, October 27, 2017
4:00-5:30 PM
250 Hutchins Hall Map
How Linguistics Gets Lost in Public Debates About Language

Anne Curzan
University of Michigan

Linguists lament that people of all education levels often seem more inclined to listen to self-proclaimed prescriptive language experts like William Safire, Lynne Truss, and William Strunk and E. B. White, than to linguists. When it comes to physics, people turn to physicists as the experts to consult on the topic; when it comes to language, people often turn to experts without training in linguistics. How, then, can those with linguistics expertise effectively intervene in a public discourse where nonstandard varieties are still regularly denigrated and standard varieties are referred to as “good English” or just “English”?
This talk, focused on the U.S. context, considers the ideologies that linguists and non-linguists share and don’t share about standard and nonstandard varieties, “grammar,” and prescriptive rules about what constitutes “good usage” in order to map potential shared conversational ground and productive strategies for addressing misunderstandings and misinformation. I assess language linguists have used to talk about prescriptivism with non-experts and analyze the language of public responses to descriptivist arguments. I cannot yet share David Crystal’s optimistic argument in Stories of English (2004) that we are nearing the end of a “linguistically intolerant era,” and this talk seeks to lay out new ways forward for having a constructive, civil conversation about prescriptivism, language variation, and language change both within the academy and far beyond it.


Associate Dean for the Humanities and Professor Anne Curzan will give a talk as part of the U-M Department of Linguistics Bicentennial event, "Linguistics and the Lived Experience of Language." The talk by will center on engaging in public facing linguistic work.
Building: Hutchins Hall
Event Type: Lecture / Discussion
Tags: AEM Featured, Bicentennial, colloquium, Discussion, Language
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Department of Linguistics