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A Report on the Warfare Used Against Language Critics

A few years ago when I read Grammar and Good Taste by Dennis E. Baron, I was surprised by the contempt with which the author, a linguist teaching at a university, spoke of language critics. I was aware, of course, of the ritual cursing of traditional grammar and grammarians by some writers of introductory books about modern grammar, but such outbursts usually appear only in the first chapter before strange diagrams proliferate. Baron's animus, however, was expressed throughout his book. It seems to me that Baron, besides displaying an unfriendly attitude, gave an inaccurate picture of Edwin Newman (Strictly Speaking, A Civil Tongue), and that his treatment of other language critics was therefore suspect. Curious, I went ahead then to read most of the modern language critics and most of those who attacked them. (The attackers are chiefly professional linguists or people with some advanced training in linguistics.)

In the early days of my reading, I entertained the hope of weighing the merits of the two opposing sides, the strict critics on the one and the loose linguists on the other; of summing up virtues and vices; and of finally handing down my objective and well-reasoned decision, from which none could possibly dissent. Further reading undermined my hope and taught me that philosophies of both language and life were involved and that I was unlikely to reach a compelling decision.

I found...

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