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Nine Misconceptions About Language

Language is a subject not exempt from misconceptions, some of which are pervasive even among students studying linguistics. In an attempt to alleviate the situation, in the chapter “Nine Ideas About Language,” Harvey A. Daniels (1985) closely investigates nine such misconceptions, relying on compelling arguments and their rather extensive analysis. The text provides a foundation for a more in-depth understanding of contemporary linguistics and its trends and theories.

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The nine myths concern different aspects of language, such as acquisition versus learning, language standardization, the connection between language and society, language change, and language perception. Particularly, Daniels dispels the next myths: children are taught to talk, the foundation of any language lies in the natural meaning or appropriateness of its features, language is uniform, and standard dialects are superior. Other investigated misconceptions are as follows: language variation is exceptional, language change is preventable, language is a closed system, writing and oral language are functionally the same, and language value judgments are universal. For instance, a closer look at the myth that children are taught their native languages reveals that they instead acquire them naturally via generalizations with the help of surrounding adults. The arguments that Daniels provides to debunk these myths are grounded in linguistic theory and are relatively straightforward; thus, he dispels them efficiently.

Overall, the ideas that Daniels elaborates on are fundamental in the field. Although some of them seem self-evident (for example, the idea that all speakers commonly switch between styles or that writing is derivative of oral language), they still potentially persist among linguists. In this way, Daniels successfully dispels the listed misconceptions, laying the foundation for learning more complex and fresh concepts in the domain.


Daniels, A. H. (1985). Nine ideas about language. In A. Rosa, P. A. Eschholz & V. Clark (Eds.), Language: Introductory readings (pp. 18–36). Bedford.

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