There are few things more revolting than prescriptionists, that is, people who have convinced themselves that grammar, spelling, pronunciation, and similar aspects of language are revealed laws that must be obeyed, rather than the outcome of years of pattern-seeking in an irregular field.
Their proposition is, fundamentally, this:
“Language is a savage beast that must be harnessed to be of any use. This harness must be made of laws, and these laws must be obeyed by all, lest civilization collapse. Therefore, it is the business of the prescriptionist to establish these laws, and, once established, enforce them. Naturally, anyone whose business or call it is to study language is better placed to establish these laws than people in general, and thus the latter group need not be consulted.”
This is in stark contrast with the descriptionist’s motto, which is:
“Language is a savage beast that must be understood to be of use. This understanding can come only from a study of its many aspects, followed by a generalization of its characteristics. These generalizations can then be progressively more detailed, a process through which the understanding will grow. However, language is a beast subject to evolution, and evolution is an ongoing and (often) irrevocable process. Therefore, what we seek is not laws but patterns, which are subject to revision.”
It follows that descriptionism is an approach compatible with the scientific method, whereas prescriptionism is not. Descriptionism is therefore to be preferred.
Against this background, let us consider an example. There is, in Swedish, an ongoing conflict between people who pronounce the word “kex” (= crackers, wafers and so on) with a hard “k” [käx], and those who pronounce it with a soft “k” [tjäx]. The latter is common in the Gothenburg area, whereas the former is spread more widely throughout the rest of Sweden. Unfortunately, Gothenburg is also home to one of the largest companies that make wafers and biscuits in Sweden, and they pronounce the word with a soft “k”.
Naturally, neither pronunciation is wrong; only a pig-headed idiot would ever assert primacy of one over the other seriously. As I am not a pig-headed idiot, I won’t attempt to do so either. Instead, I will address an associated idiocy, the argument that “if you say X, do you also say Y?”
In the present case this takes the following, more precise, form:
Moron #1: “You pronounce the word [kex], not [tjex]!”
Moron #2: “If you say [kex], do you also say [kyrka]?” [This word (meaning “church” in Swedish) is almost always the specific example used in these cases. And some people claim Sweden is secularized!]
There is no easy rebuttal to this ludicrous argument. The rule we are taught in school is that before a soft vowel (In Swedish, the soft vowels are “e”, “i”, “y”, “ä”, and “ö”.), “k”, “g”, and “sk” become softened (into “tj”, “j”, and “sj”, respectively). All Swedish-speakers would therefore say [tjyrka] rather than [kyrka], and moron #2 therefore feels safe in this learned rule, and moron #1 cannot easily argue against him. I think the commonest tactic is:
Moron #1: “But [kex] is a loan word from English ‘cakes’, therefore we should retain the hard ‘k’!”
Moron #2 can then simply claim that a loan word which has no single letter in common with the original word must be said to have been sufficiently adapted to Swedish to follow Swedish pronunciation rules, and the steak prize frustratingly goes to Moron #2.
Frustrating? Yes, because I am willing to bet that Moron #2 does not apply this rule consistently. Over the last few months (but mainly over breakfast with Skyman this morning), I have compiled the following list of words that Moron #2 in all likelihood does not apply the stupid soft-vowel-rule to. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but merely words we could think of.
Nouns in indefinite singular form
These words contain the combination “k/g + soft vowel” in indefinite form. Many retain this combination in plural form and definite form as well, but these forms are generally not listed separately.
Blekelånga, Blänke, Bräken, Drake, Fräken, Fröken, Hake, Kakel, Kennel, Keps, Käke, Lake, Lekis, Like, Lockespindel, Mickel, Märke, Mörker, Ocker, Onkel, Paket, Piket (polisbil), Piket (tröja), Pocketbok, Pojke, Racket, Raket, Rike, Rikemansbarn, Räkel, Sackett, Silke, Skelett, Sockel, Socker, Staket, Stekel, Sänke, Tecken, Töcken, Veke, Vinkel, Änkeman, Öken.
Kid, Kille, Kiss, Kiwi.
Kö (biljard), Kö (rad), Kör.
Agent, Bagel, Bageri, Bygel, Bygge, Båge, Dager, Flygel, Gecko, Gegga, Hage, Hagel, Hygge, Häger, Lager, Legering, Läge, Läger, Mage, Nagel, Neger, Regel (hasp), regel (lag), Råge, Segel, Seger, Stege, Stegel, Tagel, Tagetes, Tegel, Tiger, Tygel, Vagel.
Ginkgo, Legion, Legionär, Magi, Nostalgi, Region, Tragik.
Nouns in definite singular form
These words only get the combination “k/g + soft vowel” in definite form, but may retain it in definite plural form.
Baken, Baket, Barken (på träd), Barken (skeppet), Blecket, Blocket, Bläcket, Boken (litteraturen), Boken (trädet), Bräket, Buken, Burken, Byken, Disken, Dolken, Drycken, Duken, Dunken, Durken, Dyrken, Facket (fickan), Facket (arbetarrörelsen), Flocken, Focken, Fracken, Fänriken, Greken, Haken, Haket, Holken, Jycken, Klunken, Knacket, Knarket, Knocken, Kocken, Kroken, Kvarken, Lacken, Leken, Liket, Locken, Locket, Lurken, Länken, Lärken, Löken, Macken, Marken (gränslandet), Marken (jorden), Marken (området), Marken (valutan), Micken, Moloken, Nocken, Packet, Parken, Picken, Piken, Pirken, Pricken (plumpen), Pricken (punkten), Pricken (sjömärket), Prunken, Pucken, Punken, Rocken (klädesplagget), Rocken (musiken), Rycket, Räcket, Röken, Saken, Siken, Skocken, Skriket, Skräcken, Skurken, Skäcken, Smacket, Smaken, Smäcken, Snacket, Snoken, Spiken, Stacken, Steken, Stocken (gevärsdelen), Stocken (snusdosorna) Stocken (stammen), Stocken (torturredskapen), Stycket (avsnittet), Stycket (tygbiten), Stänket, Säcken, Sänket, Särken, tacket (erkännandet), Tacket (klockans), Taket, Tanken (idén), Tanken (tunnan), Ticket, Trucken, Trunken, Trycket, Täcket, Tänket, Vaken, Valken, vecket, verket, Viken, Värken.
Baggen, Buggen (dansen), Buggen (felet), Dagen, Degen, Draget, Draggen, Eggen, Flyget, Gnägget, Hagen, Hugget, Hygget, Kaggen, Klegget, Knogen, Kuggen, Kvargen, Lagen, Laggen (plättjärnet), Laggen (skidan), Lagget, Luggen, Magen, Muggen (dasset), Muggen (koppen), Negget, Piggen, Pluggen, Plugget, Raggen, Ragget, Ruggen, Ryggen, Rågen, Sagget, Skägget, Slagget, Spiggen, Sågen, Taggen, Talgen, Tråget, Tyget, Tågen, Tåget (gräset), Tåget (lokomotivet), Viggen (fågeln), Viggen (åskan), Vägen, Väggen, Ägget.
Verbs in dictionary form form
These words have the “k/g + soft vowel” already in the dictionary!
Agera, Delegera, Reagera, Relegera, Segregera, Tangera.
Verbs in other forms
To get the “k/g + soft vowel form”, these verbs have to be changed into some non-dictionary form.
Dränker, Dyker, Fnyker, Leker, Läker, Märker (markerar), Märker (ser), Ryker (ihop), Ryker (av rök), Räcker (förslår), Räcker (ger), Röker, Sjunker, Smeker, Steker, Sticker (drar), Sticker (med något vasst), Stryker, Söker, Tänker, Viker, Väcker, Värker.
Duger, Flyger, Ligger, Ljuger, Lägger, Niger, Stiger, Suger, Tagen, Tager, Tiger, Tigger, Viger (dedikerar), Viger (äktar), Väger, Äger.
Adjectives in dictionary form
These words have the “k/g + soft vowel” already in the dictionary!
Drucken, Enkel, Keff, Moloken, Murken, Mycken, Mycket, Naken, Naket, Purken, Sjunken, Skickelsediger, Sniken, Sprucken, Struken (raderad), Struken (med strykjärn), Säker, Tyken, Uppdrucken, Urdrucken, Vacker, Vaken, Vankelmodig.
Bortflugen, Borttagen, Diger, Enträgen, Fager, Hitflugen, Indragen (borttagen), Indragen (introducerad), Långdragen, Mager, Utdragen (diskussion), Utdragen (tand), Utsugen.
Fragil, Frigid, Magisk, Nostalgisk, Tragisk.
Adjectives in other forms
To get the “k/g + soft vowel form”, these words have to be changed into some non-dictionary form.
Bleke, Fräcke, Kloke, Kvicke, Käcke, Rike, Täcke, Veke.
Flygge, Sluge, Snygge, Svage, Trygge, Vage, Vige.
Some commonly used personal names also have this combination.
Bakelit, Frankrike, Fryken, IKEA, Kelda, Kendo, Keno, Kent, Keso, Mickel, Österrike.
Niger, Nigeria, Sagerska palatset, Tage, Veddige.
Some other words also show this pattern.
It is my hope, having compiled this list, that all the Morons #2 out there will now be consistent and start pronouncing these words with soft “g” and “k”, so that their stupid argument will finally carry some weight.