Folk linguistics

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Folk linguistics is a term applied to the amateur study of linguistics. The term is often used as a pejorative.

The linguist Ray Jackendoff points out that applying folk linguistics to education can be potentially damaging to the attainment of students who speak less standard dialects. Characterising different speech as good or bad can have a serious effect.

The term folk linguistics can also refer to ideological ideas of language, such as nationalist views of language. The scientific understanding of language by linguists often contradicts that of native speakers.


Jackendoff (2003) cites the following statements as typical examples of folk linguistics beliefs:

  • “Parents teach their children to talk" - meaning that adults assume that children either learn language directly from their parents or via simple imitation. However, research in child language acquisition shows that a child acquires language more automatically through a systematic pattern rarely noticed by adults. Although interaction with parents, adults and other children is crucial, it is actually very difficult to "correct" a child. Instead most children are able to learn to speak native languages (including those of their peers of the same age) through a process called "acquisition". Errors noticed by a parent are often self-corrected by the child weeks or months later.

  • “Children will get confused if they try to speak more than one language” - meaning that many......
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