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What's Language for You?

Some people believe that language is this:

brick wall

A brick wall.

Every brick is a word and the cement that joins the bricks is the grammar. Learn the bricks and how they are cemented together and you’ll learn language.

For these people, language is fixed. Nothing moves. They see it as a system governed by rigid rules and wouldn’t hesitate to correct you if you said something that’s outside those rules.

For example, more and more speakers of English use “less” with uncountable nouns. They might say something like, “I want less things.” This is not OK for the brick wall people. They would stop you and explain that you should say, “fewer things” since “less” can only be used with uncountable nouns. It doesn’t matter if this structure is becoming common among the speakers of the language. They care more about the rules. And according to the rules, “less things” is a mistake, so you should avoid it. 

But for other people language is like this:

Galaxy

A galaxy.

Every star is a word and constellations are structures and phrases. Nothing is static. New stars are born daily. Others implode and disappear. It may look like it’s total chaos, but it’s not. There are rules, only they keep changing because the universe is in constant evolution. It’s a living being.

People who view language as a galaxy wouldn’t look at you funny if you said, “I want less things.” For them, this structure is a new constellation in the universe of language. They don’t worry about what the rules say. They care more about how people use language in the real world.

95% of the people I know think that language is a brick wall.

I like galaxies.

What’s language for you?

Fabio Cerpelloni is an English language teacher, writer, author, and podcaster from Italy. You can find out more about him and his work by clicking on his glass of beer in the photo.