The language

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What is language?

As North Americans living in the early 21st century, we have been educated about language from the time we entered school. But much of what we learn about language in schools belongs more to a folk model than to an analytic model of language. Here are several pervasive aspects of our folk model of language.
Language is a communication system. It is true that we use language to communicate with others. However, language is much more than a communication system. The most recent thinking about the nature of language suggests that language is first and foremost a representational system; a system which provides us with the symbols we need to model for ourselves, to ourselves, inside our heads, the universe around us. This
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not be there not-any beer brewed among Estonians 'There is no beer brewed among the Estonians. '

Furthermore, in some languages, like Spanish and Russian, so-called "double negatives" are the rule, rather than the exception. Note the Spanish and Russian expressions for I don 't see anything.

Spanish: Yo no veo nada. I no see nothing
Russian: Ya ne vizhu nichevo.

These are the normal, indeed the only, way of expressing this in Spanish and Russian. If language worked like formal logic, Spanish and Russian speakers would be suffering from a permament case of illogic. Since speakers of Spanish and Russian appear to be normal human beings, we have to conclude that language does not obey the rules of formal logic.

Thus, the rule against double negatives formulated by Bishop Lowth is not a grammar rule, but rather a social rule having to do with what he considered to be the acceptable use of English.

Language is pure and unchanging. As a conservative society heavily focused on written, rather than oral, forms of language, we tend to think that change, in language as in many other things, is bad. A whole industry of language "experts" such as Edwin Newman and William Safire regularly rant
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