Anarcho Linguism

Language, spelling, grammar. It all evolves. None of it is natural, or objective. Meanings of words are not set in stone, they change. Just look at what gay used to mean and how it is used now. How awful started off meaning full of awe and now means really rubbish. So too with spelling. Shakespeare used F to denote long S sounds. Language itself will go on to evolve and change.

There is no right or wrong way to spell something. No correct use of apostrophes or commas. Whilst the grammar Nazis might go wild over a misused colon and the spelling police get apoplectic over their rather than there, they’re wrong. To claim something is wrong means there is a right way to spell it, but there is no right way to spell anything. Were our ancestors wrong when they spelt things how they did? No. Were the people who first used new words or first used the definition of new words wrong to do so? No. There is no objective measure of spelling or grammar. There are popular measures, there are measures that are approved by different dictionaries, but there is no right way.

Just because you spell it your and I spell it you’re doesn’t make me right and you wrong. One of us may be going against the popular or current usage of the word, but a majority view does not make something valid. J.S Mill perfectly summed this up, ‘If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.’

Indeed the ‘accepted’ spelling and grammar is not always the most popular. All languages have many dialects and the one that is the official language is usually only so because of historical power reasons. Why is Southern English, not Yorkshire English, the official language? Because of the power of the city of London. Why is Parisian French the official language rather than its many variants? Because of the Count of Paris became King of France in the 10th century. As Max Weinrich said ‘ a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.’ One dialects pronunciation is no more valid than another just the same as one person’s spelling is no more valid than anyone else’s.

So what does this mean? You cannot tell me my spelling is wrong, just that you disagree with it, or that it is not popular. To claim it is wrong you need to prove that there are objective measures of language and spelling – things that clearly do not exist. The only person that is wrong when claiming an incorrect spelling is the person who claims it. My spelling or the meaning I attach to different words is as valid as yours.

(Edited by Christina Annesley, who doesn’t believe in this anarcho-linguistic nonsense and believes that Olly Neville’s popularity as a writer would fall apart at the seams without her expert knowledge of correct comma placement.)

3 COMMENTS

  1. Grammar
    is a different thing altogether, and not really that significant.

    However, although no one has authority over spelling, & yes, it has changed
    over time, that still doesn’t change the fact spelling does have very important
    functions.

    How would a hospital run without spelling? Doctors/Nurses can’t write patient
    records, prescribe medicine, and send it off to another medical institution, if
    they don’t understand what they’re saying.

    Without some sort of universal agreement of how a language should be written,
    doctors would have to learn, a new spelling, for body parts, equipment, or
    medication every time they went to a hospital. Which is absolutely ridiculous
    and could cost lives.

    That’s one example.

    Private Contracts, (which presumably we would see alot more of
    in a Libertarian or Ancap society) are important, as they are legal documents.
    Court cases and policing where evidence is used/ recorded is also where
    spelling is important.

    There are far greater infringes of liberty one can worry, about. We have a
    spelling system, it works, I see no positive alternative, or outcome, by
    removing it.

  2. I agree entirely with Daniel. We do not write so we can marvel at the words themselves, but what they are saying in combination. That’s why particularly anachronistic and archaic spellings have fallen from use, they obscure meaning, which is all language should aid, not some linguistic novelty.

  3. Great article, highly original subject as well. Would you say that spelling serves a useful social function though? As in, that of a standardised means of textual exchange. The reason that norms of spelling are adhered to is, aside from neurotic obsession with uniformity, to make the reader pay less attention to the appearance of words and more attention to their meaning?

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