The Problem With Prescriptivism

In this Language Log article, Geoff Pullum gives what is perhaps the most succinct explanation of what is wrong with most prescriptivist diktats. It’s not only sums up the problem nicely, but it offers an alternative for how to teach writing and usage:

The way to avoid needless bad choices in the grammatical structure of your writing is not to learn a short list of things you must always avoid; it’s to be sensitive to what’s a good idea and what’s a bad idea, on a basis of knowing the difference. There’s a reason why Sandy should have avoided singular they in what she wrote: she had some cases of plural they fighting with the singular ones in the same sentence. Don’t set up two competing sets of identical pronouns fighting with each other in the same sentence if you can avoid it. That’s a good recommendation, not a silly one. Whereas “Don’t ever use singular they” is a silly one. [emphasis original]

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