Less than two in three Inuit speak an Inuit language according to Statistics Canada

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B D Finch  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 06:46
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Fewer than?? May 12, 2013

Fewer than two of every three Inuit.
Less than one foot of snow.
Less than ideal.

Am I anachronistically denying the natural development of English by my resistance to the increasingly common substitution of "less" for "fewer"?


The loss of the language, as the article makes clear, reflects the loss of the culture. However, people cannot be treated as museum exhibits and what is really important is whether this is the result of oppression by the dominant culture, or whether it is the inevitable result of the exercise of free choice by Inuit people. The answer will, inevitably, involve a mix of the two, because choices are made in the context of social, political and economic constraints, rather than being absolutely free.


 

madak  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:46
Swedish to English
+ ...
Less/fewer May 12, 2013

The writer of this piece probably went to an academy sponsored by Tesco...

(Note: this comment might not be understood by non-UK residents.)


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 12:46
Chinese to English
If you're going to prescribe, please get the grammar right May 12, 2013

B D Finch wrote:

Fewer than two of every three Inuit.

To me, this isn't even English. But I won't insist on that, because dialects vary.

Am I anachronistically denying the natural development of English by my resistance to the increasingly common substitution of "less" for "fewer"?

You're welcome to speak whatever English you like. But "resisting" other people's English does seem a bit pointless.

But the real problem with being prescriptive about your language is that you look such a fool when you get the grammar wrong. And I'm pretty sure you're wrong here:

Less than one
Fewer than five
Less than half
Less than two in three

At least in my English, "two in three" is a fraction, and less is the correct collocation. For me, fewer is also acceptable because "two in three Inuit" describes a multiple number of people. But less is definitely not wrong.


...choices are made in the context of social, political and economic constraints, rather than being absolutely free.

Politically, you're spot on with this.


 

B D Finch  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 06:46
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
@Phil May 18, 2013

My only mistake was using a full stop at the end of a phrase. I actually think the idea of two thirds of an Inuit seems rather foolish.

When one expresses a proportion of people as "two in three", this is effectively a metaphor. To show why it must be considered a metaphor, take the example posted for this topic, but assume (for the sake of statistical demonstration), that exactly two in three speak an Inuit language because the total Inuit population was surveyed. Thus, if there is a total population of 300,000 Inuit people, 200,000 of them have been found to speak an Inuit language. However, one could not predict that two members of a randomly selected sample of three Inuit people would speak an Inuit language, because the sample size is too small. When the finding applies to fewer than two in three people, given the impossibility of a fraction of a person speaking any language at all, replication of the results would clearly require a large enough sample to be able to avoid sawing anyone in half. Of course, in reality, you avoid problems of sampling error and the indivisibility of a person by using margins of error and levels of confidence.


 


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Less than two in three Inuit speak an Inuit language according to Statistics Canada

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