One of the 3 custom reasons for closing a question is the “Language-specific” property, expressed in the check-box item “Language-specific grammar and usage questions are off-topic unless primarily concerned with linguistics rather than usage”. IMO closing questions on this grounds is “unfair” because it is not enumerated in the “and is not about” list (advice or help on learning a foreign language; translation requests; trees; things not about linguistics). Nor do I think that you can reasonably infer that language-specific grammar and usage questions are “not about linguistics”, based on the “is about” list. One can conclude that Language-specific grammar and usage questions are off-topic if one has enough reputation to close questions and have actually tried to close a question and encounter this reason; or if you keep track of currently-visible closed questions and see this reason. But I don’t think that is a reasonable requirement for knowing what is off-topic, given that we could simply fix the help center to mention this basis.
A dozen questions were closed over the past 90 days on this grounds. An example of a question closed on this basis is the 2-verbs question, which asks if having 2 consecutive verbs (in English) means that the first is an auxiliary. The question does not ask about a causal linguistic explanation, it just asks if this is a correct generalization, and it is only about English.
One inference you could make about the “Language-specific” restriction is that questions about a specific language are off-topic. If that is the intent, then we do a poor job of closing questions, because very many questions that don’t get closed are about single languages. Some recent examples (I’m not proposing that these should be closed) are this, this and this. These questions do not clearly invoke a scientific linguistic issue (whereas the Malay copula question is more clearly “concerned with linguistics”). Based on actual patterns of question non-closure, I surmise that a question about a single language which does not have a discernible theoretical linguistic agenda is not per se off topic. I do not know what a ban on language-specific grammar questions is supposed to achieve, and I don’t see how the targeted question-askers could understand what they are not supposed to do.
The “unless” clause (“unless primarily concerned with linguistics rather than usage”) of this closure-ground is also puzzling, since “linguistics” vs. “usage” is a false dichotomy. Not everything is either “about linguistics” or “about usage”, and I do not see what “rather than usage” contributes. The 2-verbs question is basically about a grammatical generalization, though not expressed in terms of any theory of syntax, but it is not about “usage”, at least in any meaning of “usage” that I have ever encountered. I have no idea what kinds of bad things are supposed to be excluded by not allowing questions about usage. Is this code for questions with prescriptive presuppositions (and if so, why do we not simply make clear what our ideological stance is regarding normative topics, even scientific (sociolinguistic) ones?).
Another example of a “language-specific” question is the "productivity" question which basically asks whether the semantics of “productivity” and “creativity” are the same. In this case, I can see a connection between the question and “usage”, since this is a referential question about semantics, asking whether the extension of the terms is identical (though not using such a fancy term as “extension”). A dumb way to ask whether “cat” and “dog” have the same semantic properties is to ask if they can be felicitously used the same way. I would not have assumed that a question asking about the referential properties of two words is about “usage”, and this is certainly not a violation of any anti-normativity question.
The closure of the "yet-history" question about the historical semantics of English “yet” is likewise puzzling, since it asks about multiple languages (I don’t speak Old English or Middle English but I do speak Modern English, therefore these are not the same language).
Now the question part. First, can someone explain the intent of the sentence “Language-specific grammar and usage questions are off-topic unless primarily concerned with linguistics rather than usage”. Second, can we make the help center accurately reflect that intent?
Regarding questions of the type "Do I use on or in with verb X?", there are a number of ways such a question might be posed (applied to "stand ___ line", in English). Specifically:
- Should I say 'Stand in line' or 'Stand on line'?
- In Standard English, do you say 'Stand in line' or 'Stand on line'?
- Do English speakers usually say 'Stand in line' or 'Stand on line'?
- In English, does the verb "stand" select "in" or "on" before "line" as a complement?
The first phrasing is explicitly normative, and the other three are descriptive, thus in some minimal way linguistic. Is it just the first version that should be avoided, or all three? Also, note that I'm only asking about questions that are to be closed, not ones that can be migrated to a different SE site. A valid dichotomy would be between descriptive questions and normative questions. Does it accomplish the intent of the "Language-specific" restriction to say that all normative questions are off-topic? The first version of the question would be OT given that. The other versions of the question ask for factual information. Since "Standard English" is not a well-defined object, the second version of the question would really run afoul of the opinion-based restriction, though applied to some other language with an actual codified standard, there could be such a thing as a correct answer.