There have been a few questions asked recently which, although they concern etymology or basic pronunciation or history of the language, might be of some value to learners. In looking over the salient Help Center advice on these subjects, it struck me that the current text might discourage some of these questions, and particularly from those who carefully read the Help Center before asking a question—when those are precisely the questioners we most want to hear from! So I've had a go at writing something a little more, oh, "lenient" I suppose. It's admittedly more prolix than the current monument to clarity and concision (thank you, Nathan, for preventing me from writing conciseness:)

This is not the right site for questions about:
• Etymology, evolution of the English language, or historical English - see english.stackexchange.com instead.

I also note that the Help Center is mute on pronunciation-based questions. A search on the word pronunciation returns no results, even though the Close dialogue offers the reason:

Basic questions on spelling, meaning or pronunciation are off-topic

With all this in mind, here's what I propose:

Questions about etymology, phonetics, or the history of the English language occasionally have real usefulness to new students of English. More often, unfortunately, they have no such usefulness. Most such questions will be more appropriate at our sister site ELU, but if you think yours might also help someone who is learning English, go ahead and submit it here. If the community decides that it is better for ELU, we'll migrate it to that site. In either case, you might receive a useful answer—and of course we want to see your question, wherever the community decides it belongs.

What say you all?

  • 3
    The emphasis in that close reason is basic... Pronunciation isn't generally off topic here... only questions that are easily addressed with a dictionary. You can see that we have quite a few questions about pronunciation by looking at the pronunciation tag.
    – Catija
    Aug 16, 2016 at 21:59
  • @Catija Aye, and this confused me somewhat at first. We ought at least to mention the word in the HC, though, shouldn't we? Aug 16, 2016 at 22:07
  • 1
    Uh, well, I'd've said sure, let's do it; but the sad thing about the help center is that the people that most need to read it won't.
    – M.A.R.
    Aug 16, 2016 at 23:04
  • +1 @DEAD - but also, the people we most want to hear from do read it, and that's why it's important that we not lose any of them. Aug 16, 2016 at 23:14
  • hmmm. We could use a script to force at least a look at the HC. The Ask A Question button takes querier to the HC, where querier has to make with another click to access the question form. Or has this already been tossed around? Aug 16, 2016 at 23:19
  • If it has, it'd be on Meta Stack Exchange.
    – Catija
    Aug 17, 2016 at 0:01
  • It is just beginning to dawn on me, dimwit that I am, this this is where usenet went. This and reddit, I suppose. It's usenet where everyone has CANCEL and Hipcrime can't get in. Aug 17, 2016 at 0:10
  • But we force people to happily read some boring documentation? That's not gonna work PED. People don't read help centers anywhere. And well, I was just indicating why this might not be such a high-priority thing. Once people stick around -- and I think people that do stick around are the ones you said "we most want to hear from" -- they forget about help center and the documentation, since everything is available at finer details on per site metas and meta.SE.
    – M.A.R.
    Aug 17, 2016 at 7:53
  • sigh All righty. Aug 17, 2016 at 8:19
  • I think I get you. I guess you weren't that serious about the proposed text (forgive me if I'm wrong about this point) as I think you'd agree that it's much less concise, and thus less clear to the reader, a native speaker or not. Personally, I think of ELL questions as "How can I do/understand/cope with this", so unless a question is really posed as "Why is it like this?", it makes sense to have it on ELL. FWIW, in the pronunciation of "g" question, I took it as a question about "How can I cope with the pronunciation of 'g'?" rather than a real why, so it's not really about etymology. Aug 17, 2016 at 8:23
  • @DamkerngT. Oh, I'm serious about the text, but it would take a long time to explain why I think it's an improvement, and if the community doesn't want it, that's that. It's less concise, but not everything can be powerpointed into a bullet list. I think it is clear in one respect: it says go ahead and post it and we'll decide. My concern is that a high-value question regarding etymology or history which might have value in ELL won't be submitted by a person who reads the HC, while low-value questions are asked by people who don't read it. Aug 17, 2016 at 19:30
  • I completely respect the effort, but in my experience what works best is for the folks on meta to discuss a topic and come to a conclusion so that when we're reviewing, we're acting from pretty much the same understanding. When new folks jump in, we point them to the meta discussion and have a conversation. When I first started participating I didn't realize pedagogy was on-topic, and was set straight with a comment. Now I know, and if I see someone else operating under the same misunderstanding, I give them the same guidance I was given.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 17, 2016 at 21:06
  • @ColleenV It's not an issue in review that I'm trying to address here—it's that I think the current HC text may cause some good questions never to be submitted. I also know that change is hard to come by, and that a camel is a horse designed by a committee, so beyond throwing the idea out there, I can't do much. I've been doing web for decades, but I certainly haven't been here long enough to presume to advise. Aug 17, 2016 at 21:26
  • 1
    I doubt that the help center text has squelched many questions - from what I see, the way that similar questions are handled (up-votes, close votes, comments) has far more effect. As an avid reader of help/tours/abouts, I know that they only tell you so much. You have to lurk a little and see what the community standards are. I think the people that take the time to read the help center will also take the time to look around before asking and what they see will shape how comfortable they are asking certain questions. I of course have no data whatsoever to support that view though :)
    – ColleenV
    Aug 17, 2016 at 21:31
  • 1
    Phonetics should definitely be on-topic here. It's more important to learners than it is to native speakers. I don't think we should put it in the same sentence as etymology and the history of the English language.
    – user230
    Aug 24, 2016 at 8:02


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