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Rambling: Mexicans and Language

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Recommended: Thaddeus Russell's interview with Gustavo Arellano (warning: lots of foul language, most of it gratuitous, like dudes shooting the bull over beers, which is normal for the podcast in general, which is one reason I like it). I guess Mr. Arellano is a household name in southern California, but I'd never heard of him. Interesting guy with lots of insight into the Mexican community and immigration matters. Arellano is apparently a Democrat, but he detests political correctness and stupid leftist objections like "cultural appropriation." If I had to guess, he's a traditional conservative, in the vein of Albert Jay Nock.

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One Arellano observation: Mexicans are natural Republicans. They're libertarian and they loathe political correctness. Republican rhetoric about kicking them out of the country turned them into Democrats. I don't know if that's true, but he says it is and he definitely has his pulse on all things Mexican.

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I used to be a linguistic prescriptivist: English has rules and those rules ought always to be followed. I treated Strunk & White's The Elements of Style as a Bible of sorts, even buying its later companion volumes, The Elements of Grammar and The Elements of Editing. I got pretty good at the grammar game, so much so, that I got two pieces published with Vocabula Review. But then John McWhorter's arguments started hitting me. "Language," he would say, "is constantly evolving and we ought to let it. All these grammar rules are merely artificial constructs: efforts by English teachers in the nineteenth century to freeze artificially artificially freeze English as of that moment."

I then started converting a bit to linguistic descriptivism. Today, I have no firm opinion on the issue.

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Why do I bring up linguistic prescriptivism/descriptivism? Because the debate found its way into the most recent issue of Gilbert Magazine. Despite my occasional interest in the subject over the past 25 years, I'd never read the argument raised by Chestertonian Ann Farmer in a letter to the London Telegraph. Her letter boils down to this: If proper English is thrown aside even more quickly than it already is, it won't be long until we can't read our ancestors at all. It's a good point. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that, if we jettison English norms, it won't be long until the prose of, say, H.L. Mencken is as foreign to our grandchildren as the prose of Beowulf is to us.

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