To the Letter Writers—A Letter from the Managing Editor SpecGram Vol CLXVIII, No 1 Contents The Traditional Grammarian as Poet—Ted Hipple

The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective

Are you in a world of linguistic hurt? The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective (SLAC) will offer you empirical, empathic, emphatic advice you can use!*

Remember, if you can tell the difference between good advice and bad advice, then you don’t need advice! So, if you need advice, trust usand cut yourself some SLAC!


Dear SLAC,

Every time I say a word containing the vowel [æ], my 7-year-old daughter “corrects” it to [a:]. What can I do? I don’t want her growing up a prescriptivist!

Yours a-frontedly,
—Displaced Læncæstriæn

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Dear Displaced,

That’s not even prescriptivism but pure superstition out of a medieval herbal.

—SLAC Unit #4d696b61656c

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Dearly Displacéd,

Consider your options: you can convince a 7-year-old of something or you can stop saying those particular words. Now ask yourself, which is easier?

—SLAC Unit #4b65697468

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Dear Dysplasia,

Seriously, your family corrects you on pronunciation? I would arrange a family counselling session, stat! Any family that spends more time arguing over vowel sounds than arguing over the TV remote or the last game of Monopoly (which I won!) needs some serious help.

—SLAC Unit #4a6f6e617468616e

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Dear DL,

Take her to Pittsburgh.

—SLAC Unit #56697267696e6961

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Dear Displaced,

If she’s going to grow up to be a prescriptivist anyway then use it to your advantage. Hire her a strict, and therefore respectable (there’s a definite correlation between those two) speech therapist who is also from Lancaster to set her on the straight and narrow. Then, once you have her well and truly convinced that the prestige form is actually [æ], let her loose to prescribe away to her peers and see if it spreads.

—SLAC Unit #43617468616c

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Dear La:nca:stria:n

Truth is, the [a:] sounds a lot more posh than [æ], at least outside the UK. So as long as you are displaced, understand the sociolinguistic context and embrace the inevitable.

—SLAC Unit #54726579

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My Dear Discastrian,

Hear the wise words of your daughter, for she has not come to these of her own will. You accuse her of prescriptivism, but I say to you that you do not see the fault in your own accusation. Have not the wise sociolinguists who came before us foretold the social pressures that would eventually lead to such shifts; have not the prescriptivists denied this possibility before them! Then, my son, do not accuse your daughter of false intentions and go spread this vowel among all of your countrymen. For truly, he who pronounceth the [a:] your daughter has given you speaks the truth!

I write this in the name of SLAC. Amen.
—SLAC Unit #466c6f7269616e

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Dear Sir,

You’re both wrong. It’s pronounced ['lejŋkəstṛ].

—SLAC Unit #4d696b61656c

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Dear Displaced:

Thinking that all examples of /æ/ should be /a/ is, as you might know, a characteristic of Americans attempting to imitate the British accent they think they hear on imported BBC programs. Your daughter is either (a) attempting to get you beat up in a pub in downtown Manchester, or (b) indicating a desire to have you perform scenes from Masterpiece Theater/re in lieu of whatever bedtime stories you’ve been choosing. Given sufficiently boring current bedtime stories, (a) and (b) are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps you could use scenes from Jeeves and Wooster, but add some ghostly flying giant locusts? We realize that’s a cliche, but a surprising number of young people these days have not encountered it.

—SLAC Unit #42696c6c

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I am much afraid that the effect will become more distinct: —It will continue and become more distinct. You may argue more forcefully to get rid of the prescriptivism, but it will continue and gain definiteness —until, at length, you will find that the problem is not within your ears alone.

No doubt you will then grow very pale; —and argue more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the accursed vowel will increase —and what can you do?

You will /gæsp/ for breath —and yet the child will hear it /nat/. You will argue more quickly —more vehemently; but the prescriptivism will steadily increase. You may arise and explain about descriptive linguistics, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the prescriptivism will steadily increase. It will grow stricter —stricter —stricter! And still she will chat pleasantly, and smile.

Is it possible she hears not? —No, no! She hears !She suspects! —She knows! —She is making a mockery of your horror! —This I thought, and this I think. But I can help you no further —for it is morning, and I must go now to the old man’s chamber and enquire how he has passed the night.

—SLAC Unit #5368657269

* Advice is not guaranteed to be useful, practical, or even possible. Do not attempt at home. Consult a doctor (of linguistics, philology, orin a pinchanthropology) before undertaking any course of treatment. This advice is not intended to cure or treat any disease or condition, inherent or contingent. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental, except when it is not. “Empirical” means that we asked at least two other “people” whether our advice was good; one or more of those “people” may be voices in our own heads. “Emphatic” means that you may print out a copy of the advice for personal use in a medium, semi-bold, bold, heavy, black, or ultra-black weight of an italic or oblique typeface using an enlarged font size. “Empathic” means that deep down, in the darkest recesses of our blackest heart of hearts, we really, really care ♥just not necessarily about you.

To the Letter WritersA Letter from the Managing Editor
The Traditional Grammarian as PoetTed Hipple
SpecGram Vol CLXVIII, No 1 Contents