ours, which requires language with certain characteristics."By this time, I'd taken more of a look at the Honey book and I was, shall we say, bothered by his approach. Since we were friends I decided I could throw caution (not to mention circumlocution) to the winds. I responded:
Here are the titles of Honey's chapters, along with the epigraphs:
- Introduction - "Linguistics is a notoriously schismatic subject" -- Sir Kenneth Dover (no, I don't know who Sir Kenneth Dover is)
- The Language Myth - "What I tell you three times is true" -- Lewis Carroll
- The Dialect Trap - "There is no merit in equality, unless it be equality with the best" -- John Lancaster Spalding (no idea who he is, either)
- Some Enemies of Standard English -- "There is nothing so absurd or incredible that it has not been asserted by one philosopher or another" Descartes (I believe he was some French guy)
- Re-Writing History -- "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words...Don't you see that the whole aim of NewSpeak is to narrow the range of thought?" George Orwell (...wrote about pigs, didn't he?)
- Authority In Language: Anagogy and Prescription -- "Vigilance in language is worth preserving, lest, in slipping, others should think you careless in language matters" -- Lord Chesterfield (inventor of the cigarette)
- Safeguarding English -- "When the language in common use in an country becomes irregular and depraved, it is followed by their ruin and their degradation" -- John Milton (Inventor of the "Learn Latin by Reading English" method of language instruction)
- Language in School: The Lost Generation -- "No serious damage is done to national tradition if a boy is taught to say 'I'll hit him' instead of 'Us'll hit he" -- George Sampson (no idea...)
- The Language Trap Debate -- "If I have anything to boast of it is that I sincerely love and speak truth with indifferency whom it pleases and displeases" -- John Locke (THE John Locke, not the character from Lost)
- A National and International Language -- "The root function of language is to control the universe by describing it" James Baldwin (n.b., with this final quote, Honey means to demonstrate that some of his best friends are black people...)
...This book...maintains...that Standard English is not merely one variety among many, but instead is a specially important and valuable variety which derives its value from a set of qualities which are not share by other, non-standard dialects...
It must be recognized squarely, however, that there exists an almost insuperable obstacle to my contention about the special qualities of Standard English. This obstacle is the consensus that has ... existed among linguists...for at least three decades now, around the hypothesis that I will call 'linguistic equality', the notion that all languages, and all dialects of any language, are equally good."
Honey really, REALLY does not like "the notion that all languages, and all dialects of any language, are equally good." He believes that standard English has prevailed because of it possesses a goodness that other dialects and other languages do not possess. Conquest had nothing to do with it. Imperialism had nothing to do with it. Sending missionaries around the world to ram British ways of life down the throats of various peoples had nothing to do with it. Nope, standard English prevailed because it is so damned good.There is a reasoned, detailed argument to be made against this book. That, however, would require that I read it and I really don't want to read this book.
I just opened the book to a random page and found this:
End of story. In the next paragraph Honey talks about something else. This is the man who wants to lecture William Labov on logic. A little later he goes on to lament the abandonment of the Book of Common Prayer because it is more important to hear the majestic language of a previous era's translation of the Gospel than it is to, you know, understand it. And that is page 136, to which I turned randomly. Let me try turning to another page randomly. Okay, here's page 142, where he discusses the importance of "a whole host of domestic activities -- the rota of chores, laundry, personal cleanliness, eating, courtship, and even the position of items of furniture used by particular family members.." His point is that these all promote "the sanctity of boundary and order" which are the "only hope" among the working classes of "creating human dignity and a modicum of self-determination against all odds"On page 156 he complains about the rise of an "ignorant use" of the word 'cohort' to refer to a single person, more or less synonymously with "colleague", e.g. "Sir Geoffrey Howe, a Thatcherite cohort for eleven years...". By page 157 he is saying: "The loss to the English language is very serious here, since an AIDS expert, for example, can no longer talk of ' the cohorts of infected people' and be sure of being understood the different groups of such people rather than the associates or colleagues of such people" . It's a big problem. Tailors can no longer talk of three yards of cloth for fear of being taken to mean three backyards worth of cloth. What is the world coming to?Please don't make me read this whole book.