Literary language usage part 3

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Dec 25, 2019 22:36
In one of the previous installments, I expressed my disregard for particular mistakes made by native speakers which completely confuse the initial meaning of the phrase. Prompted by the mass media, such phrases become a legitimate part of the language. So if you want to look knowledgeable, you had better avoid such mistakes. Here, I would like to describe an opposite tendency when shallow people recognize pure natural linguistic phenomena as a feature of illiteracy.
In the eighteenth century, Russian assimilated an English word “coffee” (or Dutch “koffie”) in a distorted form of a masculine noun “кофей”. Later, it was dislodged by “кофе”, a variant closer to the initial foreign word. Although almost all nouns ending with a letter “е” were of the middle gender, grammar guides had retained it's masculine gender as the only legitimate one almost till present. Since grammatical genders influence verbs and adjectives, a phrase “the coffee is strong” would be “кофе получился крепкий” with the masculine coffee or “кофе получилось крепкое” with the middle gender coffee. Without knowing this perplexing history, most of modern Russians are guided by their linguistic intuition of a native speaker and use the illegitimate middle gender variant. Justifying it by rules in grammar books, vindicators of pure Russian criticise other Russian-speakers for that in comments on YouTube and Social Media.
But common! let’s think scientifically! A language is not a thing that was invented at some point and perpetuated in grammar books and dictionaries. In that case, a language spoken 1000 years ago in Kievan Rus would be the same as modern Russian. In reality, it is barely understandable by modern Russians. Even Ukrainian and Church Slavonic are more understandable. Like a biological species, a language constantly mutates through the course of history. Recently, Grammar books started considering the masculine gender for “coffee” as a possible alternative and I am content with this.