Article Footnotes

1Geoffrey K. Pullum, The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax. University of Chicago Press, 1991.

2Geoffrey Nunberg, "The Decline of Grammar," The Atlantic Monthly (December 1983), pages 31-46.

3His praise of Fowler has a slightly unpleasant tinge of patronization, though; he pats him on the head with the phrase "that good man, H. W. Fowler," and describes the admirers of his best-known book as "a coterie...who prize its diffident irony." The de haut en bas tone is expecially revealing because Nunberg really admires Fowler, and does not mean to put him in his place-it's just the tone that one who thinks of himself as a professional adopts unthinkingly when speaking of or to an amateur or layman; as a surgeon does when talking to a patient, unless forcefully corrected. Apart from the condescension, Nunberg seems to have been thinking of someone else when he says "diffident irony"; there is very little of either diffidence or irony in Modern English Usage.

4Nunberg says [37/1] "since nonstandard forms of English possess internal logic just as standard English does, they are not inherently inferior; rather, the doctrines of prescriptive grammar reflect covert class prejudice and racism." Here Nunberg, wielding his favorite weapon, the Unsupported Assertion, defeats his favorite opponent, Straw Man. Those of us who regard the patois of the Black ghetto as inferior do so not because we think it lacks "internal logic"-if it did, it could not serve as a medium of communication at all-but because it demonstrably lacks the means of expressing many ideas and shades of meaning that standard English possesses. And since those without a fair command of standard English are at a severe disadvantage in getting good jobs and other good things, we prescriptivists, in urging that American Blacks-like all other Americans-be taught standard English rather than be studied as interesting linguistic specimens ("native informants"), are helping them attain important economic and social goals. If prescriptivists were racists, we would want to perpetuate the disadvantages of Blacks, not remove them; cultural elitists we may be, but elitists who want others to share our lofty status.

5And not only his reasoning; he writes "forgone," meant to write "a foregone conclusion," should have written "inevitable."

6Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct. New York: Morrow, 1994

7Pinker improves the story in the act of summarizing it; he says "they do not have four hundred words for snow"-but even Pullam does not record seeing a claim greater than two hundred.