I’ve touched on prescriptivism a little in this blog (there are some relevant links here), but I haven’t said much about how strong the bias towards it seems to be, and how strong the emotions can be. Language Log, not unexpectedly, has quite a few posts on this topic. I have a strong suspicion that’s it’s partly connected to perceived group membership. We associate not talking like us with not being part of our group (and we associate certain specific usages with certain specific groups), and so our response to the way people use language is tied up with all sorts of other deeply emotive things, like feelings of belonging, cooperation, competition, xenophobia, racism, treachery, and so on.
But then, if you read my thesis, you’ll see that I would say that. And there must be other factors involved too. I was particularly struck recently by my own response to a particular usage. I like to think of myself as a fairly rational chap, not given in particular to xenophobia and the like, and in particular someone who has a better than average understanding of how language works. So you’d expect my responses to linguistic usage to be fairly rational, right? So why do I recoil whenever I hear someone use “lego” as a count noun? What is it about the (in the US entirely unexceptional) word “legos” that irritates me so much? And in a way that isn’t true of plenty of other features of American English?
The bad and irrational response to this would be to complain about people saying this and to start instructing them not to. There are two good responses: to try to override my feelings with reason, and to try to get to the bottom of where they come from. I’ll see what I can do.