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What is the difference between the "English Language & Usage" and "English Language Learners"?

Could anyone clarify the differences?
Which questions should I ask here, and which ones should I ask there?

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Although there are a number of differences between the two sites, the key difference is right there in the name:

  • English Language Learners (ELL) is about helping people learn English

  • English Language and Usage (ELU) is really about the study of English Language and Usage from a largely academic perspective.

If your question is really about how to speak, read or write everyday English, it probably belongs on ELL. If your question is about historically why things happen they way they do in English, or about how to speak, read or write specific uncommon or obsolete dialects of English, it probably belongs on ELU.

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    I think the two bullet points are accurate and succinctly expressed, but I have slight misgivings about the implications of your final sentence. Hopefully ELL answers also devote attention to explaining why one usage is "valid" where another usage isn't, rather than just saying this is right, that is wrong. I'd like to think that on ELL the best answers include supporting explanations that help the OP (and future visitors) understand underlying principles they can apply to other contexts. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 1 '13 at 22:36
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    @FumbleFingers: I completely agree; when I said "Why" I was really thinking about "why" meaning "how it came to pass that" which is an etymological question that belongs on ELU. So for example "Do I always capitalize the pronoun 'I'?" is off-topic on ELU and on-topic for ELL. "How did it come to pass that the pronoun 'I' is always capitalized?" is off-topic on ELL and on-topic at ELU. – Matt Sep 1 '13 at 22:43
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    To me, this is an instance of StackExchange fragmentation through proliferation. Don't get me wrong - I love stackexchange sites, but there is an annoying tendency (to me at least) to pick nits. The difference Matt describes is clear here when I read it, but would not likely be so for those hitting either site on entry. Usages questions are evident on both. Because usage fundamental to learning a language, it makes little logical sense to have such separation. However, if you are into etymology, then you might go first to ELU ... again, arbitrary. Is SE going too individualized ? We'll see. – Howard Pautz Sep 5 '13 at 2:53
  • @HowardPautz: A lot of the fragmentation that you see is because ELL is still in beta, and we haven't yet started to systematically migrate "common usage of English" questions and other categories like "word choice" questions from ELU to ELL. IMO the distinction is fairly clear: If the question is about using everyday English, it belongs on ELL. If it is about academic study of the English language, it belongs on ELU. – Matt Sep 5 '13 at 5:20
  • @Matt excellent one liner! So I propose we use that as a moniker: ELL = Everyday English. ELU = Academic Research English. Too bad the sites weren't named EEL and EAR :-P which would have not only made them easier to distinguish, but would have opened the door for word comedy ... – Howard Pautz Sep 13 '13 at 18:43
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For some time now, I’ve thought this was less about the particular question being asked than it is about the kind of answer being sought.

If you are learning English, and you’re struggling with some particular issue, and you’d like some native speakers to help guide you, then there’s a good chance that ELL is the right place to ask. That’s what the ELL community is designed for.

However, if you’re wanting a more technical answer from a linguist, you’d be better off asking on ELU.

I like to say that ELU is the place to go when you want a “John Lawler” answer. (Professor Lawler is an ELU regular who understands the semantics of English quite well, and explains them quite thoroughly.) Here are a couple excerpts from John Lawler's answers:

The OP also notes that these cookies is the Direct Object of the infinitive to make and normally what one expects to be moved or missing from an infinitive is its Subject, not its DO. And indeed the subject of each infinitive is missing, but that's normal for indefinites. The real question is how the infinitive make wound up shorn of both its Su and its DO, and how the DO of make wound up as the Su of be fun. And the answer is a minor governed cyclic rule called Tough-Movement.

This that is not a demonstrative pronoun, and does not refer to a neuter noun; it's a complementizer that introduces a tensed subordinate clause, and it's used in English also to mark subject and object complement clauses.

If that’s the kind of answer you’re looking for – one that might be a challenge for the layperson to come up with – then ELU would be the place to ask.

But if that kind of answer would be “overkill” for what you are trying to figure out, then ELL might be the better place to ask – particularly if the main reason for your question is that you’re not a native speaker of English.

  • However, it's also true that an awful lot of EL&U questions would not be out of place on ELL. – Mari-Lou A Jan 17 '17 at 12:32
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    @Mari-Lou The questions wouldn't be out of place, but some of the answers might :) For example, if I ask my financial advisor whether I should buy a vacation home, I will get an answer about cost, taxes, etc. but if I ask a real estate agent, I will get an answer about the sauna, how close to the beach it is, etc. I ask different experts the same question based on the type of answer I would like. – ColleenV parted ways Jan 17 '17 at 15:58
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    @Mari-LouA - From my observations, I think many ELU questions perhaps should have been asked on ELL, had the people asking the question been aware of both sites, as well as the intended purpose and audience of each. – J.R. Jan 17 '17 at 16:30
  • On SE meta there are some pretty negative statistics. Apparently in 2016, EL&U closed about 54% of questions, now the questions weren't necessarily all asked in 2016, there have been users keen on closing older questions which they considered off-topic, but I believe the majority of closed Qs were from that same year. Which confirms my impression (and yours) that many of these closed questions would find a better home on ELL. (Not all, mind you!) – Mari-Lou A Jan 17 '17 at 17:30
  • @Mari-Lou Statistics for just this year were added to the post on Meta, which brought down the percentage a little. There is an argument to be made though that ELL might not be closing enough questions, so our 19% rate should be higher. – ColleenV parted ways Jan 17 '17 at 17:34
  • @ColleenV I very rarely cast votes to close questions on ELL, one of the main reasons being that if I voted to close one for lack of research, I'd need to close another 20 out of fairness. I am amazed that so many regular users just churn out the same style questions, with little to no research. Many questioners are asking if their sentences sound natural or idiomatic. The same questions would be closed instantly on EL&U as being proofreading or POB. – Mari-Lou A Jan 17 '17 at 17:44
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    @Mari-Lou It's a hard line to draw sometimes, especially when it come to research. We don't want to be taken advantage of by people who don't make some effort, but the research requirements of ELU are counter-productive on ELL IMO. I do think that questions about what is idiomatic are absolutely on-topic for ELL though. It's so easy to be grammatical and sound completely wrong to a native speaker. I think while it's a little subjective, most folks agree on the answers to the "does this sound right" questions. – ColleenV parted ways Jan 17 '17 at 21:04

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