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There is no unique authority for correctness in the English language.
Dictionaries may differ in their approach to representing English and in their choice of sources; some are
more descriptive, others more prescriptive.
Modern technology offers the opportunity for ordinary people to weigh in ongrammatical issues.
Because of the widespread use of English around the world, there is more than one standard.
Language is always changing, so that what is considered standard may shift over time.A case in point is
the continual loss of irregular nouns and verbs in favor of their regularized counterparts.
Regularized forms are stigmatized when they are first introduced, which leads to common anxieties over
the acceptability of forms in flux.
The varieties of English are more alike than different.
The study of English requires describing constituent-structure at all levels of grammatical organization.
English is organized hierarchically, from the lowest level, the root+affix, to the highest level, the
English is governed by rules that describe how the elements of the language are arranged.
Over time, exceptions to rules tend to become regularized.
1. Students might find it interesting to compare earlier versions of Webster‟s dictionariesto the third edition.
They might be assigned specific words to research, such as ain’torunique. Even more interesting would
be to locate evidence of the public outrage when Webster‟s announced its new policy. As I recall, there
were some less than civil exchanges published byThe New YorkTimes during that time.
2. This naturally leads to a dictionary assignment to verify students‟ opinions. You might want to add others
to the list, such as has ranor has went. Students might be willing to contribute some of their own.
However, a full-blown discussion of all the irregular past participles is better left until the chapter on
3. They all do. I noticed, however, that the Origins eyeliner uses “automagically” with a trademark symbol.
1. Here are some suggestions for answers. The general idea of constituent-grouping is more important here
than total agreement. If what the student offers can be the answer to a question about that sentence, I
accept it, even if there are reservations about it in more serious linguistic analysis. It can be pointed out
here that a single word can be a constituent. How did she sob? Uncontrollably.
The bored students ignored the teacher’s questions.
The bored students
ignored the teacher‟s questions
the teacher‟s questions
She sobbed uncontrollably when thejury announced the verdict.
sobbed uncontrollably when the jury announced the verdict
when the jury announced the verdict
announced the verdict
The fact that the speaker showed up late annoyed many members of the club.
The fact that the speaker showed up late
annoyed many members of the club
that the speaker showed up late
the speaker showed up late
many members of the club
of the club
Skiing in the Alps is my favorite vacation.
skiing in the Alps
is my favorite vacation
my favorite vacation
in the Alps
The baby crawled into the closet and fell asleep
crawled into the closet and fell asleep
crawled into the closet
into the closet
2. [the man [in [the white coat] ] ]
This books is too difficult violates agreement.
They waved the flag white is an order violation.
She laughed the dog is a grouping violation. (Intransitive verbs do not group with direct objects.)
My cousins lives in Los Angeles violates agreement.
I walk school to violates linear order.
The Mr. Smith owns the store is a grouping violation. (Proper nouns don‟t normally occur with
1. It might be useful here to find out if people have different views of printed dictionaries and online
2. This question gets at the mechanisms of language change from one generation to the next. It assumes the
student is also a parent, but it could easily be adapted to younger audiences (“Suppose your little sister
3. The more common an irregular form is, the more reinforcement it gets and the less likely it is to succumb
to regularization. You might also point out that this is probably why the vowel-changing plural nouns
have resisted regularization as well: feet, teeth, men, etc.
4. The answer might lie in the stigma attached to regularized forms when they first appear. The older,
irregular form is always regarded as the “correct” form at first and some anxiety accompanies regularized
forms for a long time while the irregular andregular forms co-exist. In some cases, the irregular form
actually wins the competition (as with blowed andblew). Even when the regular form is historically first,
people might occasionally feel pressure to create what they assume to be an earlier, more established
form. I find it interesting that whenever I‟ve asked students to tell me which of two competingforms they
use, they almost always say they use the irregular one. When pressed, they will admit that dreamedsounds
okay, or that they will useshined, not shone, in He shined his shoes, but it takes some prodding.
Again, I would not routinely test specifically on the material in this chapter but rather might incorporate some
of the concepts into the testing of later chapters. If I were to test, I would be inclined to ask for explanatory
answers to questions such as the following:
Why won‟t looking up a word in adictionary give you the final answer on its usage?
Why might competing forms, such asdreamt anddreamed, exist at the same time in a language?
What do we mean by a “constituent” in grammar? How do you know when words form a constituent?
What do we mean by an“agreement” rule in grammar? Give an example.