Expanding Horizons

One of the (many) things I love, Love, LOVE about blogging is that I get to learn so much. All kinds of smart people bring, right to my computer, articles and ideas, thoughts and possibilities, and arguments and theories that I may not otherwise ever have seen had it not been for this little forum.

I’ve been thinking a lot about linguistics lately. Between John and Jangari, (thanks, guys!) I’ve been getting quite the intellectual workout, and I’m loving every second of it. I do have to say, though, that I’ve been thinking about language and its implications for a lot longer than I’ve been blogging and, even before one of my linguist buddies (I think it was John) suggested it, I’ve been reading The Language Log.

This morning, Bill Poser submitted an entry about how the military has decided that “soldier” should be capitalized in writing. The theory is that the capitalization will lend more respect to the word and, if I’m carrying out the thought to its intended conclusion, bring more credibility to the military as a whole.

I have always known that a lot – a LOT – of what I now understand as prescriptive grammar is based on social issues; grammar as a construct that is used to define and enforce social divisions among the speakers of a language. I, myself, have been – and often still am – guilty of making judgements about people based on their abilities – or not – to manipulate the “rules” of English. It seems to me that the military is tapping into this almost instinctual practice of creating artificial status through the use of language, and I’m not sure that it’s going to work.

For one, how much respect or status REALLY, authentically comes from language? Even I, who just admitted to being a language snob, don’t believe that capatilizing a noun gives it some sort of superior status – the evangelical christians are trying it, and that’s not working for me, either. The status of a group and the respect it deserves are derived from its actions, behaviors, and policies, not by whether or not we hit the “shift” key when typing the nouns we associate with it.

Second, given the almost abysmal state of modern English grammar rules and the shocking lack of knowledge that the average Joe has about them, do they really think anyone is going to get it?

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8 Comments

Filed under about writing, Learning, little bits of nothingness

8 responses to “Expanding Horizons

  1. wordlily

    I started commenting here, but it turned into a post of its own. http://wordlily.wordpress.com/2007/06/05/prescriptive-grammar/

  2. Trying to change orthography by decree rarely seems to work, at least in English. Webster had some success with his reforms (color for colour, center for centre, etc) but they were very small changes. The Chicago Tribune used many simplified spellings between 1935 and 1975, for instance “thru” and “nite”, but even they have not caught on completely.

    otoh, some spellings were changed in the 14th century: “doute” became “doubt” and “iland” became “island” because someone wanted to reflect the words’ Latin origins in the spellings (mistakenly in the case of island).

    Other languages have been reformed, most recently German in 1996, but there is still resistance to it, even tho the reforms make a lot of sense.

  3. As the actor in the crowd of academics it’s my job to make a lot of noise about how the language makes me feeeeeeeelllllll. (squish) I have a lot of objections to the capitalization of things like G_d and S_ldier but my most vehement one is that, when I read in a sentence, the voice in my head EMPHASIZES IT very loudly which totally interrupts my flow and makes my reading shitty.

  4. …and that’s a PERFECTLY valid response to this, Kizz. In fact, it’s the response that the military is HOPING you’ll have to the capitalization of their words (though, I suspect, not the totally interupting the flow part, but certainly the EMPHASIZING part).

  5. Yes. This strikes me as an idea whose presenters have, at heart, good intentions, but whose efforts will end up being a huge waste of time.

  6. sphyrnatude

    Two words:
    military intelligence.
    Need I say more (Note the lower case letters…)

  7. For what it’s worth, soldier is a job, not a title. A soldier is like a teacher, a construction worker, a dentist, etc. The title for a soldier, sailor, marine, or airman is his or her rank (Admiral, General, Sergeant, Lieutenant, etc.).

    Not that I don’t respect the military profession, but this is just the U. S. military high command doing some serious backpedaling.

  8. Soldier

    This is in reply to some of you folks. There are two types of soldiers in the world. 1st you have another countries army which has soldiers. Then you have the United States of Americas Army which has Soldiers. If the word Marine is capitalized, then why not Soldier, or Airman, or Sailor? The only Soldiers in the U.S. military are those that are in the Army, just an fyi. Marines are Marines, Soldiers are Soldiers. Also, soldier is not a job. Combat engineer is a job. Soldier is a person.

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