Grammar rules must ultimately be based on facts about how people speak and write. If they don’t have that basis, they have no basis at all. The rules are supposed to reflect language the way it is, and the people who know it and use it are the final authority on that. And where the people who speak the language distinguish between formal and informal ways of saying the same thing, the rules must describe that variation too.
A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar, Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey Pullum
A Grammar book does not attempt to teach people how they ought to speak, but on the contrary, unless it is a very bad or a very old work, it merely states how, as a matter of fact, certain people do speak at the time at which it is written.
H. C Wyld, 1925, Elementary Lessons in English Grammar, p.12. In Words on Words by David and Hilary Crystal.
ON NEW VARIETIES OF ENGLISH
It is no more possible to do away with new varieties than it is possible to suppress the waves of the sea.
Skeat, W. (1912) English Dialects from the Eighth Century to the Present Day
ON LANGUAGE CHANGE
Language lamenters mostly haven’t understood how language works. In language change, new variants grow up alongside existing ones, often as stylistic alternatives.
Aitchison, Jean 1(994). ‘Why do purists grumble so much? ‘Evening Standard’ 27 April 2004.
ON THE INFLUENCE OF LATIN
They all forced English too rigidly into the mould of Latin, giving many useless rules about the cases, genders and declensions of nouns, the tenses, moods and conjugations of verbs, the government of nouns and verbs, and other things of that kind, which have no bearing on our language, and which confuse and obscure matters instead of elucidating them.
John Wallis (1653), Grammatica Linguae Anglicanae
In the beginning men spake not Latin because such rules were made, but, contrariwise, because men spake Latin the rules were made. That is to say, Latin speech was before the rules, and not the rules before the Latin speech.
John Colet (1511) , in his teacher’s preface to Lily’s Grammar
ON STANDARD ENGLISH
Standard English is highly codified for foreign learners by commercial publishers. But at present it is not at all codified for UK learners. At one time linguists might have argued that this doesn’t matter, because we don’t need a description of our own language; such descriptions are of purely scientific interest. But that argument was always a bad one because Standard English is not the native language of about 90% of the population in the UK (and I imagine the situation is similar in other English-speaking countries).
Lecture by Richard Hudson in Paris on 17 March 2000.
So there is no contradiction in saying that every normal person can speak grammatically (in the sense of systematically) and ungrammatically (in the sense of nonprescriptively), just as there is no contradiction in saying that a taxi obeys the laws of physics but breaks the laws of Masssachusetts.
Pinker, S. The Language Instinct
It is clear, however, that Standard English is not “a language” in any meaningful sense of this term. Standard English, whatever it is, is less than a language, since it is only one variety of English among many. Standard English may be the most important variety of English, in all sorts of ways: it is the variety of English normally used in writing, especially printing; it is the variety associated with the education system in all the English-speaking countries of the world, and is therefore the variety spoken by those who are often referred to as “educated people”; and it is the variety taught to non-native learners. But most native speakers of English in the world are native speakers of some nonstandard variety of the language, and English, like other Ausbau languages (see Kloss, 1967), can be described (Chambers and Trudgill, 1997) as consisting of an autonomous standardised variety together with all the nonstandard varieties which are heteronomous with respect to it. Standard English is thus not the English language
Trudgill, p. 1999. In Tony Bex & Richard J. Watts eds. Standard English: the widening debate. London: Routledge, 1999, 117-128. Available here.
German-speakers use their local variety when talking to others from their area and standard German when talking to everybody else: that is, German-speakers are bidialectical. Almost no one in Germany regards the numerous non-standard local varieties as ignorant or slovenly or illiterate: these varieties are merely seen as having a different function from the standard.
Trask, R.L. 2006‘Language: The Basics’, Abingdon, Routledge. p. 205
. . . one may hear in the corridors of the University of Berne, two philosophy professors discussing the works of Kant using all the appropriate philosophical vocabulary while using the phonology and grammar of their local dialects.
Trudgill, 1999, as above
Standard English is ‘language which is neutral in style . . . forming a broad band between colloquial and slang on the one hand and formal and technical language on the other’ . . . [It] occupies the middle ground between illiterate expression and pedantic usage . . . Standard English is not the exclusive property of any social or regional group, but a resource to which English-speakers at large have access.
Peters, P., 2004, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage
Roughly speaking, Standard is the kind of English which is: 1. written in published work, 2. spoken in situations where published writing is most influential, especially in education (and especially at University level), 3. spoken “natively” (at home) by people who are most influenced by published writing – the “professional class”’.
Hudson, 2000, as above.
[Standard English is] the kind of English that is widely accepted in the countries of the world where English is the language of government, education, broadcasting, news publishing, entertainment, and other public discourse . . [There is] remarkably widespread agreement about how sentences should be constructed for such purposes as publication, political communication, or government broadcasting. This widespread agreement defines what we are calling Standard English.’
(Huddelston, R., Pullum, G.K., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language
I take the view that all varieties of the language have an intrinsic value and interest, while recognising that one of these varieties – formal standard English – carries more social prestige and has more universal standing than any other.
Crystal, D. 1996. Rediscover Grammar
ON SYSTEMIC FUNCTIONAL LINGUISTICS
Language is as it is because of what it has to do.
Michael Halliday, Language as Social Semiotic
The particular form taken by the grammatical system of language is closely related to the social and personal needs that language is required to serve.
Michael Halliday, 'Language structure and language function' in New Horizons in Linguistics'
ON THOSE WHO DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT
I'd say the problem with people who want to impose their linguistic tastes on others . . . is that they are so bad at it . . . they actually don't know how they do what they do, and they are clueless about the grammar of the language in which they do it, and they offer recommendations on how you should write that are unfollowed, unfollowable, or utterly insane.
Georffrey Pullum , Language Log
What is the strange nature of linguistic subject matter that leads journalists, and writers of all sorts, to mouth off about it without a care, announcing random... falsehoods as fact? Metallurgical claims are treated as needing at least some kind of fact-checking with metallurgists: you can't just assert that lead is highly brittle at room temperature or that vanadium explodes if put in contact with water. But linguistic claims are left to the same sort of uncontrolled mouthing-off as totally subjective opinions about food or fashion.
Georffrey Pullum, Language Log
Laymen are generally lousy linguists: they do not know what questions to ask, they do not know how to look for answers to them and they are too ready to accept generalisations to which they could easily find counter examples.
Jame D McCawley