I have, of course, been sent the link to Weird Al’s new “Word Crimes” video, a parody of last summer’s hit “Blurred Lines.” My response: “I enjoyed the parody but deplored the prescriptivism.” I didn’t have much more to say, and wasn’t planning to post about it, but I liked Lauren Squires’s guest post at the Log enough to link to it here and quote a couple of paragraphs (the “third” comes after discussions of Al’s use of “grammar” in a way that annoys linguists and the notion of “Proper English” as a tool of discrimination):
Third—and the motivation for this post—is that the view of “grammar” as “you must learn the rules or else be ostracized” just makes grammar no fun at all! Studying language—really digging into it, uncovering its remarkably complex yet orderly structure, investigating what makes it different across speakers and communities—is SUPER FUN! Giving people a list of rules of things to do in order to not be criticized is NOT FUN! I want my students to think language is FUN, and to have FUN thinking about language!
So as a teacher, I want to say: Weird Al can think what he wants about language, and you the audience can laugh along or not, depending on your views on language or taste in music or whatever. But please do not mistake the video itself for an educational video. It will not teach students about language. It will not teach students about grammar. I’ve seen many comparisons to Schoolhouse Rock, but would any student who didn’t already know what a “preposition” was leave Weird Al’s video understanding it? No. Rather, on its face, this video teaches people that there is a right way to speak/write, and if you don’t do things that way, you’re a bad person (or a sewer person? or a person with a disability?) who should not breed. Nothing about how language works, or why these “rules” are what they are.
She presents a list of 25 Questions for Teaching with “Word Crimes” that may be of interest. I would like to add an important point: yes, Weird Al is a parodist and not an educator or editorialist (sample comment by Kyle Gorman: “Weird Al is a parodist—there’s no way the character he is performing is his sincere self—who is no more ignorant of linguistics than society at large”), but that is a red herring here. It is clear from his statements in interviews (e.g., “When I came up with the idea for ‘Word Crimes’ I thought, ‘That’s great, because I’m pretty obsessed with grammar anyway.’ I’m always correcting peoples’ grammar”) that he stands behind the attitudes expressed in the video, though they are presumably exaggerated for comic effect. Also, “no more ignorant of linguistics than society at large” means “completely ignorant.” Maybe someday we can change that!