Language Awareness: Who Has It?

An important premise of Citizen Sociolinguistics is that people have significant awareness of language and how they use it. People demonstrate this on the Internet by posting detailed definitions on Urban Dictionary (See previous post on UD.), making lengthy side-comments on YouTube about their own “accent” during Accent Challenge videos (See previous post on Konglish.), or just in conversation, talking about new words they’ve learned while traveling or meeting new people (See previous post on “Weg.”).

All this Internet and face-to-face banter about and with language, suggests to me that people have become increasingly liberal in their attitudes about language and more aware about how language can be used flexibly. But “seems” isn’t always “so.” Could it be that these super-aware language users are just a minute sliver of people representing the unique and tiny world I live in? Or, am I deluding myself about their “super-awareness”?

I decided to test the waters of language awareness by sending out a brief “Language Awareness Survey” to my Facebook friends. It consists of six T/F questions, extracted from an ancient revolutionary textbook called Language and Reality, written by Neil Postman in 1966. Here is my much-abridged version of his quiz:

Directions: Answer True (T) or False (F) for each of the statements which follow.

“T”= So far as I know, this statement is more true than false.

“F”= So far as I know, this statement is more false than true.

  1. ________ The English language has only six major vowel sounds: a, e, i, o, u, and y.
  2. ________ Correct grammar is grammar that is logical.
  3. ________ Generally, educated people do not use a dialect when speaking.
  4. ________ In English, the sentence, “I didn’t do nothing” means “I did do something.”
  5. ________ Regardless of how many people use the word “irregardless,” it is still not a word in English.
  6. ________ The more meanings a word has, the less useful it is.

Survey Monkey nicely tabulated the responses from the first 100 Facebook responders before asking for money (apologies to those friends who replied later whose responses I couldn’t use or even see!).

Given that Facebook responders are officially designated my “friends,” I assumed we would all have pretty much the same (“correct”) responses to these questions. My own humble responses would be False, False, False, False, False and, False!

A very smart Facebook responder must have had the same assumption (and shared my answers) because he commented,

“Advice on survey construction, don’t frame all or most questions so they have the same answer or same negation structure.”

Not only did I construct the survey poorly, but, as the results below illustrate, nobody paid much heed to this huge hint as to the “correct” answers when responding:

Question True False
1.     The English language has only six major vowel sounds: a, e, i, o, u, and y. 30 68
2.     Correct grammar is grammar that is logical. 19 79
3.     Generally, educated people do not use a dialect when speaking. 7 93
4.     In English, the sentence, “I didn’t do nothing” means “I did do something.” 46 53
5.     Regardless of how many people use the word “irregardless,”it is still not a word in English. 56 40
6.     The more meanings a word has, the less useful it is. 9 85

 

My first impression was shock and delight! My Facebook friends and I have more divergent views about language than I would have predicted. But I do have some possible (and potentially exciting) explanations, which I will delve into in my next post. In the meantime, send your comments. Do these results surprise you too? Why do you think the responses were so wide-ranging? If you would (or did) post answers other than F, F, F, F, F, F, why?