Descriptivism only goes so far

Giganews Newsgroups
Subject: Descriptivism only goes so far
Posted by:  andre…@users.sf.net (AB)
Date: 18 Sep 2003

Gary Vellenzer <nycr…@seznam.cz> wrote in message news:<MPG.19d37957a23927e1989a…@news.CIS.DFN.DE>...

> The basic question is whether you want to live in the real world or in a
> private paradise of your own. The real world contains "let he" as well
> as "let him". Linguists have to account for both,
>
> No one can stop you from enjoying your paradise, but most people prefer
> to enjoy reality. They object to your attempt to foist your paradise on
> them.

You're the one who's missing reality. A grammar that accounts for
every little variation on Google is unrealistic. Like I said, there
would be more exceptions than rules, and that's totally useless.

I'll use "let he who..." as an example. You say it's acceptable? How
about "let he go"? That's obviously wrong, so now you have to explain
why it's "him" in some circumstances and "he" in others. Perhaps it's
the relative clause that's affecting it? But then what about "to him
who"?

    "to him who" 213,000
    "to he who" 13,600

What can you say now? The preposition before "him" makes the
difference? You're only digging yourself deeper. If you base
everything on the majority you'll end up with a big confused mess of
exceptions. If you want a grammar that will actually fit inside a
book, that can describe the language in a systematic way, then you
have to sacrifice Google once in a while.

That means dropping the peculiar "let he who" in favor of simplicity.
That gives us a system where we can add or subtract relative clauses
at will, without changing the case of any pronouns:

    Let him who is without sin go.
    Let him                    go.

This is much more robust, and it will fit about 95% of the time. The
case of "let he who" is within this other 5%. Do we want a grammar
that's 100% descriptive but a million pages long? Or one that's 95%
and only 200 pages long? Which is more realistic?

"English by majority" is a nice ideal, but it's terribly impractical.
If you want a grammar that's actually USABLE, then you can't let
Google be your master.

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