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English, like many other languages, has its own usage of words and convention that can only be captured by practicing and speaking with natives. For instance, if non-English speaker come up with a grammatically correct sentence that doesn't always mean it is correct by convention.

So, in which cases do we accept answers that indicate familiarity or unfamiliarity of certain word usage from English speakers as a supporting argument or a proof?

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Sorry, but a supporting argument or proof of what? –  Codie CodeMonkey Sep 12 '11 at 21:53
    
+1 DeepYellow though I ran out of comment-votes. –  Daniel Sep 12 '11 at 21:56
    
I understand your first paragraph, but not your second. –  Chris B. Behrens Sep 12 '11 at 22:13
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Answers in this forum should be supported by reputable evidence, not merely: "I am a native speaker and that's how I always do it." –  GEdgar Sep 13 '11 at 1:18
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Seems like this question would be more appropriate for meta. –  Caleb Sep 13 '11 at 2:49
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4 Answers 4

up vote 1 down vote accepted

@Jamie, looking at your comment below your question, which clarifies your question, the answer would be no not for certain.

An English speaker might be rather familiar with a phrase, and the English speaker might use it regularly, as well knowing other people who also use it, but that doesn't give conclusive proof as to the correctness of a phrase. The factors that affect this include the fact that the phrase might be used in a certain way that as peculiar to the region from which the English speaker came from, and not necessarily applicable to the rest of the world. Also, the "other people" that the English speaker knows might be restricted to his friends and family, who could possibly have been influenced by himself( quite possible).

So, no, not for certain. Just because a native English speaker says he knows it quite well, is not proof for the correctness of a phrase. Without the evidence of a conclusive agreement by the world on such a phrase (such as dictionaries, etymologies, or links), just an opinion is not enough.

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I believe that you've answered my question and other related matters. Thank you so much. –  Jamie Sep 13 '11 at 12:18
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When you're trying to describe how native speakers use language, evidence that particular native speakers do or don't use language a particular way is exactly the best kind of evidence you can have.

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Great, then if I may ask another related question, can we put a native speaker way in importance level as other references like (Idiom dictionaries, Ngrams ...etc) ? –  Jamie Sep 12 '11 at 23:19
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These other references you mention measure the same thing, how native speakers use the language. Generally these measures are more useful than asking an individual speaker because they summarize observations of large numbers of native speakers. –  David Schwartz Sep 12 '11 at 23:45
    
+1 Nice tautology. –  Cerberus Sep 13 '11 at 0:20
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Most Americans are native speakers of English. Let me tell you: as a group, we are completely untrustworthy on matters of spelling, grammar, and usage. We make so many crazy mistakes that cataloging the best ones makes good sport. And it looks like Americans aren't alone. Non-native speakers may not have the same ear for what seems right and what doesn't, but in some cases that may be an advantage.

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+1 for your honesty. –  Jamie Sep 13 '11 at 12:10
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The ear often does work -- a native speaker in any language will often know the right answer but not the reason for it. –  Caleb Sep 13 '11 at 12:42
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Re-reading my previous comment, it occurs to me that the "ear" is probably the culprit in a lot of mistakes that natives speakers make (again, applies to any language). We hear a phrase or formulation several times and come to understand what it means from the context in which it's used, but fail to understand why it means what it does. The result is millions of people who use "I could care less" when what they really mean is "I couldn't care less." –  Caleb Sep 13 '11 at 15:38
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To me, this is indicative of a parent saying "Because I told you so", just because they're older... More exposure to a language is never a qualification... An English PHD might have authority in English, but that hardly means they are correct only because of it. This question seems far to general for a real answer and for that I think it should be moved to a community wiki.

Aside from that, I would contend that English subtly changes through the years... English today is English not because any authority said it was so, but because enough people started using it. I would make a case that Google Trends is a more authoritative source of grammatical correctness than an English PHD because of it's ability to represent trends and popular usages.

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