HD: Rethinking the Prescriptivist-Descriptivist Dyad
Posted: 12 August 2014 04:57 AM   [ Ignore ]
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The latest article of mine.

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Posted: 12 August 2014 06:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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This separation of motivation and methodology has wider application and can be used to resolve some of the issues in the current prescriptive-descriptive debate, as many modern grammars and dictionaries are used normatively, even if the methodology used to produce them is observational.

I don’t really understand this.  How is this going to resolve anything in the current prescriptive-descriptive debate?  It’s an interesting point of view, but it doesn’t change the fact that on one side you have people going “Everyone needs to speak and write the One Correct Way, which is what I say it is!” and on the other side people going “Language varies, language changes, there is no One Correct Way, get used to it.”

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Posted: 12 August 2014 08:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Well, it won’t fix the “one correct way” problem. But it does do the following:

1) Makes explicit the idea that there is an elegant and appropriate use of language, and puts to rest the canard that “descriptivists are too permissive, don’t give a damn about ‘good’ language.” (I don’t think there is a descriptivist or linguist on the planet who doesn’t also have a problem with bad writing or speech, although ideas on what constitutes what is bad may vary.)

2) Shifts focus onto how we determine what is elegant and appropriate rather than on whether we should make the determination at all. It puts pressure on those prescribing how language should be used to justify their prescriptions. (Which in some cases may indeed be justifiable.)

3) Recognizes that no matter how linguists go about the business of their discipline, most people turn to linguistic resources to help them determine what is the best way to use language. People want normative rules, and there should be a place for them.

And when it comes to the “one correct way” problem, most people don’t have a problem with that in general. 99.9% of people will concede that language changes and there are different registers that are appropriate for different contexts. It’s the specific cases that bug them, and by pressuring them to justify their prescriptions in individual cases, the “one correct way” problem may fall by the wayside.

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