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|Subject:||'Correct' language in pre-literate societies|
|Question:||Is there any concept of ''correct'' language in pre-literate societies where spoken communication must be understood as a series of sounds rather than words? Is there any concept of grammar, even if only on an instinctive level?|
|Reply:||Your query is an extremely interesting one, which (with all due respect to them) those of my fellow panelists who have already responded do not seem to have faced squarely. I take it that you are asking not whether languages of preliterate societies have grammatical structure, to which the answer is of course yes, but whether such societies consciously contemplate and discuss issues of grammatical correctness and related topics, such as standard versus substandard usage. I don't know and I would very much like to know. Of course, the extent to which speakers think about and discuss such topics varies very much even as between thoroughly literate Western societies. The French spend much more time on it than the British, for instance; it is common for widely-read French newspapers to include a regular corner where readers can send their worries about correct usage and receive replies, whereas such a thing would be quite unusual in a British paper. But I think in all European societies, in so far as these issues are discussed they are seen as linked primarily to written language and only secondarily to speech; so it is quite reasonable to wonder whether the concepts in question arise at all in preliterate societies. As I say, unfortunately I do not know the answer to this question. Geoffrey Sampson|
|Reply From:||Geoffrey Richard Sampson click here to access email|