ConceptRules can be seen as ‘regularities’ describing ‘actual’ usage
From the perspective of linguistics, which describes language as it actually is rather than how some people want it to be, rules are the regular patterns which are found: (a) in the ‘communal’ usage of specific groups of people (e.g. in dialects); and (b) in the minds of individual users (part of their idiolects). Thus, according to a plurilithic view of English, there are different rules for different users and uses.
In DepthLet’s take the expression of negation on English verbs. In ‘Standard English’ and some other varieties, the regularity is that the particle not (regularly contracted to n’t) is added to an auxiliary verb, or have and be as main verbs; quantifying words and phrases using any often follow. For example:
1. I haven’t been anywhere.
2. I don’t have anything.
3. I haven’t been nowhere.
4. I don’t have nothing.
So there are two rules which capture the regularities of negation in communities of English users: one in which a single negative marker is used (e.g. in ‘Standard English’) and one in which negation is marked twice (e.g. in African American English). According to a ‘rules-as-regulation’ orientation, the second rule is ‘incorrect’ because it is ‘illogical’ (everyone knows that ‘two negatives equal a positive’!). This argument has been repeated for centuries, and is still made today, e.g. on the engVid website, which offers free English lessons: see Fig. 1.7. According to the engVid teacher Ronnie:
As an English learner it is important to understand slang, but you shouldn’t try to use incorrect grammar, especially in cases like this where it can make people think you mean the opposite of what you want to say! I’ll show you examples of some of the most common double negatives that English learners and native speakers use. You’ll learn how to correct these mistakes so that your English is clear and correct.
Notice how use of the negative concord rule is identified by Ronnie in the video as ‘stupid’ and ‘without class’ and viewers are told not to use it: this is quintessential regulation. Yet in many other languages, negative concord is the custom (in the ‘standard’ variety too). Take Spanish, for example:
5. No he estado en ningúna parte (the translation of  and  above).
6. No tengo nada (the translation of  and  above).
7. He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde in al his lyf unto no maner wight
‘In his whole life he has never said anything wicked to anyone’
In Unit 3 we’ll return to the different senses of rule as ‘regulation’ and ‘regularity’ and see how misunderstanding of the difference has led to a mismatch between the rules teachers teach for tests and the rules learners learn for use.
Reflection 1.2The beliefs about ‘correct English’ challenged in this section are very strongly held by many people. The resilience of these beliefs makes it hard to appreciate that what is generally thought of as ‘incorrect’ usage may just be the use of alternative rules.
Reflect on how convincing you find the linguistic view of ‘correctness’ and let us know what you think here.