Originally Posted by VydorScope
Joking aside, usage IS what defines English. Rules are written after the fact. Go read how any of our "standards" are created and you will see that came out of studying how words/etc were used.
Teachers/etc help slow change down, and help teach the current state... but ultimately usage drives the rules, not the other way around.
I'm not denying the importance of usage, or downplaying the seemingly arbitrary ways in which changed habits become formalized rules.
But apart from the attempt at regulation by institutions like L'Académie française (and even they have had to accept new rules and exceptions for arbitrary reasons -- not, for example, because they found technical justification but because Proust invented and used unorthodox syntax convincingly), both elements are at play. Usage is crucial to English not because of the absence of regulators but because ours is an imperfect and, often, wildly illogical language. That (and the vocabulary of any country that ever invaded a certain green and pleasant land) adds to its expressive power but prevents us from relying on the grid of perfect syntax the way one can in French, for example.
I would argue that that is why we're having this discussion: it hinges not on regulation or usage but rather on logic
, which is necessary to counteract the chaos. Hence the factions divided on subject-verb agreement, literal ideas of sexism (see Harry's comment about grammatical vs. natural gender) and the potential awkwardness of inventing a new and neutral pronoun. Look down and you'll see we're all walking the tightrope toward grace.