The Linguistic credo was that it was undemocratic to attack “incorrect” English…
Leonard Bloomfield’s egalitarian theories of education, in essence, insisted that “correct” or “good” English was a form of social snobbery perpetuated by the “fanciful doctrine” swallowed by an American public eager to climb the social ladder.” Though Bloomfield’s observation were brief and came at the end of a lengthly scientific work, Language, written in 1933, they had a profound effect on American educators, who during the depression years were eager to help the underprivileged and eliminate distinctions in the classroom.
The idea that the condemnation of “incorrect” usage was undemocratic conformed perfectly to the temper of the nation and also to an educational scene where rigorous teaching methods and standards of achievement were swiftly beginning to sag. The educational theorists, impatient with rote learning, drills, and memory work, were looking for short cuts in every realm. They seized happily, therefore, on Bloomfield’s conviction that “correct” English was simply upper-class English, and that to insist on the punctilios of spelling, usage, and diction was to impose harmful class, or status, distinctions on the young.
The developing conflict between the social philosophy of the Structural Linguists and the traditional precepts of grammar might have hung in uneasy balance had it not been for World War II. As the theaters of war expanded around the globe to remote and exotic lands, the government suddenly found itself in need of personnel who could speak not only the familiar languages of Europe but such esoteric tongues as Burmese, Korean, Hausa, Pashto, Fanti, Tagalog and Thai. Foreseeing this need, a group of linguists attached to the American Council of Learned Societies instituted early in 1941 an intensive program of analysis of little-known tongues. After Pearl Harbor called on the Council for help.
Before the war ended the number of foreign tongues taught under various army programs totaled fifty. Although various methods were employed, newspaper and magazine articles began to speak of the “miraculous” results achieved and gave much of the credit to the new linguistic science. It was at this time that the issue between old and new methods was truly joined. Many progressive schools and colleges began to experiment with the techniques used during the war and to introduce some features of the Army’s training program- among them the extensive use of mechanical aids and the techniques of linguistic analysis.