Thursday, November 02, 2017

Changing Standard American English II

So I have kept on running the informal polls I mention here in this post. As I noted in that post, I'm not certain of the validity of what I am learning, due to my biased sample. But I'm enjoying the discussions I'm generating, as well as seeing how people react to these examples of "bad" English.

Here's my latest sentences. What I do is give the samples and ask people if this is something they would say, or write; or whether they think it's "correct" English.

Elvis feels terribly about missing class. 
Having loved the book for years, the movie was disappointing. 
But I didn't really want to go. 
The window was already broken when we arrived.
Whoever we elect should at least be qualified.
The book which the teacher assigned is a thousand pages long.
If you have any questions, please call Sue or myself.
Now that Halloween is over, I plan to eat less candy bars.

The "errors" in many of these are more egregious than the first set, and my respondents often are very clear about the sentences being non-standard. Frequently, people are not able to articulate why, however, and focus on peripheral problems with the sentence. For instance, in the sentence --

The window was already broken when we arrived.

-- many people who responded focused on the "already" as being unnecessary or incorrect. Almost no one noted that the sentence was passive, which is the part many instructors would call an "error."

Similarly, in the following sentence,
Whoever we elect should at least be qualified.
those who had problems with the sentence located the problem not in the wrong case of the pronoun, but as a problem of focus or emphasis. (Some did note that the sentence should be "Whomever we elect...." These people felt very strongly that the use of who in the object position was an error.)

More updates as they occur!


Bardiac said...

Interesting. To me, the passive totally makes sense there. If the speaker(s) weren't there, how can they assign agency to the window-breaker?

The "less" for "count nouns" makes me a bit crazy, but I think it's a lost cause.

delagar said...

Bardiac: Yes, this is one of the examples I might use to demonstrate to my writing students why the passive is sometimes needed!

Agree on the lost cause of trying to make the world distinguish between less/fewer. :D

Contingent Cassandra said...

My reaction is (again, I think?) the same as Bardiac's: there's no problem whatsoever with the passive in the window sentence; in fact, it seems like the appropriate choice. In fact, I'd say that a teacher who flags that as an error has an insufficiently nuanced understanding of why the passive is sometimes not the best choice.

I also don't have a problem with "But I didn't really want to go," though I recognize the error (starting a sentence with a conjunction, I assume).

I'm especially un-fond (probably not a word) of the "and myself" error; that one strikes me as marking the speaker as trying to sound formal/fancy/educated, and failing.

Of course, we all have our blind spots. According to one reviewer of my undergraduate thesis (whose major objection seemed to be that I'd dared to write about Edith Wharton but not Henry James), I tend to commit which/that "solecisms," and that, I fear, is still true at times (and I find myself googling this issue more than occasionally).