The concept that through time and usage, new English words, definitions and grammars are being created.

Many grammarians have their favorite grammar pet peeves. Unfortunately, since English lives, some of the most heinous grammatical gaffes are now quite acceptable to the average speaker.

Example: prepositions require noun phrases. That is, you cannot correctly end a clause or sentence with a preposition.

    Where did you put the book at?
    should be written or said,
    Where did you put the book?
The habit was formed somewhere, and passed to children, and reinforced through repetition, until it has become so commonly used, that it is acceptable.

English is definitely a living language, quite possibly the one that is most dynamic and open to change on the planet -- due largely to the fact that it's the lingua franca in so many international spheres and hence there's a huge input into English from all other languages and cultures. However, many of the traditional rules of grammar not only attempt to stop the English language from living and breathing, but are themselves derived from a dead language.

For example, take the famous gramatical rule about not splitting an infinitive, of which the best-known example is of course "To boldly go where no man has gone before". This rule was developed when the first attempts at creating a formal grammar for English came about in early Victorian England. To the people who developed that grammar, Latin was a "pure" language, and in Latin an infinitive can not be split as it is one word. Attempting to impose that rule on English resulted in the no split infinitives rule, which is completely artificial.

A quick glance over the works of Chaucer or Shakespeare shows that English is a living, changing language; books written 100 or even 50 years ago use forms of the language that we wouldn't consider using today. Anyway this is all far better explained by people much more intelligent than myself, so go and look up Chomsky and linguistics if you want to know more.

I've never quite understood the argument that we shouldn't piddle over people using "incorrect" grammar because English is a living language.

Doesn't the fact that we recognise that English is changing obligate us to change it for the better? Why not change our language so as to make it more efficient rather than OKing things that detract from the clarity of speech? When we simply integrate into our language things that were previously unacceptable, we make it harder to translate between languages, for people from different dialects to communicate with each other, and for people to learn English.

I also have a personal dislike of many changes that have occured in recent history, because I am aware that they were based in ignorance. My dictionary includes possum as a word because enough people had a problem saying "an opossum" (and "a possum" sounds like "opossum" when one does not enunciate). Ironic has lost all meaning. What's the point? A counter example is the singular use of "they" has a distinct purpose and, while it is rejected by a fair number, I consider "allowing" it a positive change to language.

It seems to me that the best course of action would be to learn "proper" English - as it is - and make changes through educated choice.
English, like any other language, is not alive. This is merely a metaphor. English, like any other language, is a set of conventions.

It changes over time but so does everything else. Flowers bloom and metal rusts. Unlike physical artifacts, a social artifact such as English changes through the gradual interaction between how it is used and it was used. Sometimes this occurs through extensions and expansions of the vocabulary, the coining and dissemination of new words. Sometimes it occurs through deflation, the collapse of meanings so that words fall into disuse or the various meanings of a word become narrowed.

Interestingly, most arguments that use the metaphor of "English as a living language" seem to be concerned with justifying a narrowing and limitation of the language.

It's obvious that language follows rules. This is not because the rules are all written down somewhere - there is no complete generative grammar for English, and even if there was, no-one could hope to learn it all explicitly.

It's also true that a 'language' such as English, even American English or British English, is not a static unity. As language changes, different speakers will be using different and contradictory rules to produce their utterances, for example, not to mention regional or cultural differences.

We should distinguish between correcting a usage that conforms to no existing commonly accepted rule and correcting one that does. Everyone agrees the former correction is reasonable, but the latter correction may be seen as unreasonable - and this is the point of many arguments founded on the notion that language changes.

Such arguments, supporting a descriptive rather than a prescriptive approach to grammar and recognising the autonomy of language users, need not imply that we can just play Humpty Dumpty and make up any old rules we like - to be valid, a usage must exist 'in the wild'. One criterion for this might be: "is the usage citable, by some group of language users, in explaining or correcting language use?"

The fact that there may be borderline cases, vagueness, even, in this distinction, does not invalidate the distinction itself - which still applies very well, and has utility, in many many cases.

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