Descriptivists failings

I decided to take a grammar class through my job. Actually, I had no damn interest in taking a grammar class, but the class on phonology that I actually wanted to take was booked and this was a good close second. Among the first assignments for this class was a debate online where some of the students had to defend the position of descriptivism and others had to defend prescriptivism. I could have defended the merits of either position, but was assigned the descriptivist camp. Now, it is my actual opinion that the debate is as worthy as asking how many linguists can dance on the head of a pin; the question is patently absurd because all of us are going to teach the compromise position, whether we like it or not. But I happily fought for the descriptivist position, and I fought fucking well. That’s a lie. I slaughtered the competition. They didn’t have a prayer. And there was a reason for this, most of them had no idea what they were talking about and basing their arguments on last minute research. For me, this shit had been all I was interested for a number of lonely years (IE my twenties) when I had no friends and was repulsive to the opposite sex.
This was, proverbially, the moment I had always been waiting for.
I wiped the floor with the fuckers. I mean, they didn’t stand a chance! I responded to every post, rebutted every rebuttal, and went on for days after any and everyone else stopped giving a shit. But that isn’t the important thing. The important thing is that I FUCKING WON, and in doing so I made myself look erudite, and I got to cite intelligent people like John McWhorter and Willard Quine. I became a standard bearer for descriptivism at large. Fuck with that.
Well, the universe did exactly that. Fuck with my victory. See, I can’t actually win anything.
Time past and I found myself teaching just some random class. Now, we of course teach classes contracted forms, and that particular day I was meant to go over ‘going to’ which contracts to ‘gonna’ or /gʌnə/ (this is phonetic transcription. Can’t read it? Tough shit.) Well, I say ‘I was meant to go over’, but the truth of the matter was that it was an easy class that I had taught a thousand times before and frankly I was at that point on auto-pilot. I wasn’t thinking about teaching, I was merely speaking a script that happened to coincide with what was being taught. And because of this, I didn’t feed the students /gʌnə/, I fed them ‘goina’ /gɔɪnə/ , where the first sylable rhymes with ‘boy’.
Suddenly, the dead that were once my students awoke, and began assaulting me with actual questions! /gɔɪnə/? I’ve not heard of such a thing? When do you say /gɔɪnə/? How does it differ from /gʌnə/ ?
I found myself in the odd situation of actually having to think about things! Specifically, I had to think about /gʌnə/ and /gɔɪnə/. When do I use one? When do I use the other. Well, here was the challenge to my descriptivism? I had taught students to say /gʌnə/ thousands of times, and I never bothered to ask myself whether I actually used it, or used something else in its stead. Did I say /gɔɪnə/? If so, under what circumstances? Is it an american thing? A DCMA thing? Shit I picked up somewhere off the beaten path? WHERE THE FUCK DID THIS COME FROM?
The reception from the classroom was not particularly good, either. /gɔɪnə/simply confused them. And that brings us back to good ol’ descriptivism. Actual spoken forms are all well and good, but at some point one may not want to veer to far from the script, even if you really do speak in a certain way.
And just as a final kick in the pants, I was asked about the class later on in the day. “***** (my name here)” Kelly, the only colleague at work I actually like, asked me “do you really say /gɔɪnə/ ?”
“Surely do” I said, in my best Omar Little impression.

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