Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bad or Badly?

It's a common expression for us to say, "I feel badly" about something. Recently, a friend mentioned someone had told her that it's actually incorrect and that you're supposed to use "bad" instead of "badly." She wasn't sure who was right because she, like many of us, have been instructed in the past to say "badly."

As it turns out, the quick and dirty answer is that it is indeed incorrect to say "I feel badly" and that you should say "I feel bad." Question answered. Still, there are some of you that probably want to know why this is.

"Badly" is an adverb, meaning it describes verbs (action words). You could say, "John performed badly on his test" or "Jane sings badly." In both cases, the action the person is doing is being described.

"Bad" is an adjective, meaning it describes nouns (objects, places, things). You could say "The economy is bad" or "That accident was bad." In both cases, the thing itself is what is bad. What makes the use of this word tricky is that it is also used with states of being. To say "I feel (adjective)" means you are describing your state of being, which is why we have to say "I feel bad." Think about any other adjective you could use in place of bad, such as happy instead of the adverb happily, strange instead of the adverb strangely, and any other adjective you can think of with an adverbial counterpart.

This is definitely something that I think many people never get adequate instruction about, so if you were one of those people, you don't have to feel bad about it!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Language is Dynamic

One of the things we learn in anthropology is that culture is dynamic. In other words, it changes, it evolves, and stopping this process actually stifles a culture and can cause it to die. Linguistic anthropology teaches us that language, like culture, is also dynamic and that language and culture are not mutually exclusive from each other. Sometimes I do struggle with this, disliking the way that English is changing, being frustrating with particular grammatical phenomena becoming acceptable when they were not so during my childhood. At the same time, when I remember how so much of our rules were chosen for arbitrary or political reasons, I can't really get too upset because that process continues to happen. A friend sent me a great read on the topic. It's a long article, but well worth reading. When I look back at my first posts, I realise I never stated at any time that my personal style of judging grammar is much like that of the author in this article: I believe there are certain rules that should be followed when using Standard English, which is generally used for formal occasions like report writing, official documentation, and so forth, but that daily speech is governed by local sociocultural norms. People have often told me they're afraid to write to me because they feel like I'll judge their grammar. The truth is that I do notice typos and grammatical errors because I can't turn off my ability to do so, but I don't make any judgments about the people committing these errors. Considering I've worked with and for PhD holders who have fairly atrocious writing skills yet are competent, intelligent people--with doctorates, no less!--it wouldn't really be fair to judge people on their knowledge of Standard English. Furthermore, instances where friends and family are writing to me are informal anyway, so why should there be the same rules? So although you might classify me as a snoot (as described in the article), my snootiness is limited only to instances where Standard English would be expected or required. For the rest of you, don't worry!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Video Lessons

I doubt many of you have been holding your breath in anticipation of my post on superlatives, but I decided to try to do it in video form instead. The only problem is that I haven't had the chance to do the video, so hopefully I'll get a chance to do so soon!