Thesis Statement (p. 2 – 4):
- What does Wallace mean by, “Issues of tradition and egalitarianism in U.S. English,”and how does the idea of a ‘democratic spirit’ relate to these issues? Do you think most people in America practice a ‘democratic spirit’ as Wallace sees it?
- What is a usage dictionary according to Wallace and Garner?
- Wallace at one point refers to our written language as, “what we as a culture have decided is English.” Why do you think he would frame written English in this way? How does this contribute to the rest of his argument(s)?
- Why does Wallace begrudgingly refer to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary as ‘notoriously liberal’?
- What is the, “protracted Crisis of Authority in matters of Language,” or the “Authority Question,” that Wallace is discussing? Do you think this is a real issue? Why or why not?
Corollary to Thesis Statement (p. 5 – 12):
- Aristotle’s classic rhetorical triangle claims that to truly be persuasive, one must master ethical appeals, logical appeals, and emotional appeals. How does Wallace claim that Garner has effectively utilized an ethical appeal? What criteria does Wallace suggest Garner met in so doing? (I.e.: what does it take to make an effective ethical appeal?)
- Wallace quotes editor Phillip Gove’s response to the release of Webster’s Third, stating: “A dictionary should have no traffic with… artificial notions of correctness or superiority. It should be descriptive and not prescriptive.”
What is prescriptivism, and what is descriptivism? And, which side do you side with in regard to the Usage Wars and the writing and publishing of usage guides?
- How does Wallace argue descriptivism has influenced U.S. culture and education? Do you think this has been positive, or negative? Why?
- What does Wallace suggest are the descriptivists’ two main arguments? (*hint: see page 6 & 9.) Provide a few of Wallace’s counter-arguments to those of the descriptivists.
- What argument (or counter-argument) is Wallace making when he brings up the analogy of cultural customs around wearing pants vs. skirts? Is this pro- or anti- descriptivist? Do you agree with his assertions? Justify your response.
- What is “Correct” English usage, as Wallace understands it?
Discourse Communities (p. 13 – 18):
- What is a ‘Discourse Community’?
- Wallace states: “The dialect you use depends mostly on what sort of Group your listener is part of and whether you wish to present yourself as a fellow member of that Group.” How many dialects would you say you’re fluent in? List a few.
- How do Wallace’s comments on dialects relate to the Usage Wars?
- Why does Wallace suggest that kids with ‘perfect’ grammar get picked on? Is this a good thing? Is it avoidable? How does this compare and/or relate to how ‘slow’ kids are treated? Justify your responses.
- What is SWE? Why would a student strive to be fluent in SWE, according to Wallace? (hint: see p. 15)
- According to Wallace, what discourse community primarily communicates in SWE, and how does he suggest this relates to social inequities?
Wallace’s ‘spiel to students of color’ regarding SWE in academia, and PCE (p. 16 – 18):
- How would you describe Wallace’s ‘spiel to students of color’ regarding SWE in academia? Do you agree with his assertions? Is this an appropriate way to speak to students? Justify your response.
- How does Wallace justify his ‘spiel to students of color’ regarding SWE? (see also p. 19)
- What is PCE, and what are Wallace’s attitudes toward ‘prescriptive PCE’? What does ‘prescriptive PCE’ mean?
Answer: PCE means Politically Correct English, Wallace’s attitudes toward prescriptive PCE is not just silly but confused and dangerous. Prescriptive PCE means
- Who does Wallace suggest PCE serves the interests of? Do you agree with this assertion? Why or why not?
Interpolation on a Related Issue in the Face of Whose Ghastly Malignancy This Reviewer’s Democratic Spirit Just Gives Out Altogether, Admittedly:
- What is Academic English according to Wallace, and what are his attitudes towards it? Do you agree with his feelings towards Academic English?
- Why, according to Wallace, do teachers and scholars resort to using Academic English? Can teachers avoid this? Should they?