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Not merely prescriptivism for prescriptivism’s sake January 19, 2007

Posted by globalizer in Danish, Language, Localization, Translation.

I should probably clarify that when I complained about the non-standard construction of 2- and 3-word noun phrases in the Danish Netvibes translation, my main criticism was based on the potential for misunderstanding, not on the formal violation of “rules”.

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that it makes good economic sense to establish and follow linguistic guidelines that give your applications and corporate web interface a polished, professional look, since inconsistent and non-standard language usage may impact your users’ opinion of your product quality in general.

However, there’s a big difference between simply non-standard grammar, for instance, and grammar or orthography that introduces ambiguity or downright misunderstandings. For instance, in my daily work it is not unusual to hear people consistently conjugate irregular verbs in English like this:

We have went over this a number of times…

This always makes me wince (to say nothing of the by now almost ubiquitous “Send your responses back to John and I” and similar constructions), but I have no problem understanding what is meant.

The same cannot be said about the non-standard way of constructing noun phrases in Danish (separating each word with spaces instead of concatenating them into one word), however. In many cases this new practice (heavily influenced by English) totally changes the meaning of the phrase.

So at least in those specific cases there are good reasons beyond taste for nitpicking.


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