Tag Archives: Jost Winteler

Writing Relativism

As I’m still learning as much as I can about language ideology of North American English-speakers, I find public discussions of prescriptivism simply fascinating. Not that we don’t have the equivalent in French. We clearly do. But the connection between language prescriptions and cultural values seems clearer to me in North American English than in French.

And the following comment, made in a discussion of typographic and spelling variability, does make me think about my own relationship to relativism.

Language Log: Foolish hobgoblins

a mischievous reference to “the thin edge of the moral-relativist wedge”, alluding to the many people who believe that making linguistic choices is a moral issue, so that tolerating (or, worse, advocating) variability is moral relativism of the most deplorable sort.

Of course, the author favours this type of relativism in his blog post. But the notion is that some people (closeted prescriptivists) might object to the relativistic nature of somebody’s tolerance of variability.

Come to think of it, there is an obvious connection between linguistic relativity and a specific form of moral relativism. A friend of mine, clearly a relativist, was telling his son that a language form his son had used was not inherently wrong but that “we typically use another form.” Personally, I find such training quite useful but it does reveal a relativistic tendency which, apparently, makes some people cringe.

Of course, I don’t think of relativism as “anything goes” the way many people seem to define it. To me, relativism implies a relation with “context,” broadly defined. An action may have deep implications and those implications should be kept in mind in making decisions about the action.

Clearly, my own relativistic tendencies push me to relate relativism (and relativity, actually) to other dimensions of Life, The Universe, and Everything. To me, relativism isn’t an absolute value. But it can be pretty useful in daily life.

Relativism helps me remain happy.