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Encyclopedia > Linguistic prescription
Theoretical linguistics
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In linguistics, prescription can refer both to the codification and the enforcement of rules governing how a language is to be used. These rules can cover such topics as standards for spelling and grammar or syntax; or rules for what is deemed socially or politically correct. It includes the mechanisms for establishing and maintaining an interregional language or a standardized spelling system. It can also include declarations of what particular groups consider to be good taste. If these tastes are conservative, prescription may be (or appear to be) resistant to language change. If they are radical, prescription may be productive of neologism. Prescription can also include recommendations for effective language usage. Linguistics is the scientific study of language, which can be theoretical or applied. ... Theoretical linguistics is that branch of linguistics that is most concerned with developing models of linguistic knowledge. ... Phonetics (from the Greek word φωνή, phone meaning sound, voice) is the study of the sounds of human speech. ... Phonology (Greek phonē = voice/sound and logos = word/speech), is a subfield of linguistics which studies the sound system of a specific language (or languages). ... For other uses, see Morphology. ... For other uses, see Syntax (disambiguation). ... The introduction to this article provides insufficient context for those unfamiliar with the subject matter. ... Lexical semantics is a field in computer science and linguistics which deals mainly with word meaning. ... Statistical Semantics is the study of how the statistical patterns of human word usage can be used to figure out what people mean, at least to a level sufficient for information access (Furnas, 2006). ... This page is a candidate for speedy deletion. ... Prototype Theory is a model of graded categorization in Cognitive Science, where some members of a category are more central than others. ... The ability to understand another speakers intended meaning is called pragmatic competence. ... Applied linguistics is the branch of linguistics concerned with using linguistic theory to address real-world problems. ... Language Acquisition: A Journal of Developmental Linguistics Language acquisition is the process by which the language capability develops in a human. ... Psycholinguistics or psychology of language is the study of the psychological and neurobiological factors that enable humans to acquire, use, and understand language. ... This article or section cites its sources but does not provide page references. ... Linguistic anthropology is that branch of anthropology that brings linguistic methods to bear on anthropological problems, linking the analysis of semiotic and particularly linguistic forms and processes (on both small and large scales) to the interpretation of sociocultural processes (again on small and large scales). ... Generative linguistics is a school of thought within linguistics that makes use of the concept of a generative grammar. ... In linguistics and cognitive science, cognitive linguistics (CL) refers to the currently dominant school of linguistics that views the important essence of language as innately based in evolutionarily-developed and speciated faculties, and seeks explanations that advance or fit well into the current understandings of the human mind. ... Computational linguistics is an interdisciplinary field dealing with the statistical and logical modeling of natural language from a computational perspective. ... This article does not cite its references or sources. ... Historical linguistics (also diachronic linguistics or comparative linguistics) is primarily the study of the ways in which languages change over time. ... Comparative linguistics (originally comparative philology) is a branch of historical linguistics that is concerned with comparing languages in order to establish their historical relatedness. ... Not to be confused with Entomology, the scientific study of insects. ... Stylistics is the study of style used in literary, and verbal language and the effect the writer/speaker wishes to communicate to the reader/hearer. ... Efforts to describe and explain the human language faculty have been undertaken throughout recorded history. ... A linguist in the academic sense is a person who studies linguistics. ... Unsolved problems in : Note: Use the unsolved tag: {{unsolved|F|X}}, where F is any field in the sciences: and X is a concise explanation with or without links. ... Linguistics is the scientific study of language, which can be theoretical or applied. ... Proper spelling is the writing of a word or words with all necessary letters and diacritics present in an accepted standard order. ... For the topic in theoretical computer science, see Formal grammar Grammar is the study of rules governing the use of language. ... For other uses, see Syntax (disambiguation). ... It has been suggested that Office etiquette be merged into this article or section. ... Political correctness is the alteration of language to redress real or alleged injustices and discrimination or to avoid offense. ... Language change is the manner in which the phonetic, morphological, semantic, syntactic, and other features of a language are modified over time. ... A neologism (Greek νεολογισμός [neologismos], from νέος [neos] new + λόγος [logos] word, speech, discourse + suffix -ισμός [-ismos] -ism) is a word, term, or phrase which has been recently created (coined) — often to apply to new concepts, to synthesize pre-existing concepts, or to make older terminology sound more contemporary. ...

Prescription is typically contrasted with description, which observes and records how language is used in practice, and which is the basis of all linguistic research. Serious scholarly descriptive work is usually based on text or corpus analysis, or on field studies, but the term "description" includes each individual's observations of their own language usage. Unlike prescription, descriptive linguistics eschews value judgments and makes no recommendations.

Prescription and description are often seen as opposites, in the sense that one declares how language should be while the other declares how language is. But they can also be complementary, and usually exist in dynamic tension. Most commentators on language show elements of both prescription and description in their thinking, and popular debate on language issues frequently revolves around the question of how to balance these.



The main aims of linguistic prescription are to define standardised language forms either generally (what is Standard English?) or for specific purposes (what style and register is appropriate in, for example, a legal brief?) and to formulate these in such a way as to make them easily taught or learned.[citation needed] Prescription can apply to most aspects of language: to spelling, grammar, semantics, pronunciation and register. Most people would subscribe to the consensus that in all of these areas it is meaningful to describe some kinds of aberrations as incorrect, or at least as inappropriate in particular contexts. Prescription aims to draw workable guidelines for language users seeking advice in such matters. Standard English is a controversial term used to denote a form of written and spoken English that is thought to be normative for educated users. ... Stylistics is the study of style used in literary, and verbal language and the effect the writer/speaker wishes to communicate to the reader/hearer. ... In linguistics, a register is a subset of a language used for a particular purpose or in a particular social setting. ... Brief redirects here. ...

Standardised languages are useful for interregional communication; speakers of divergent dialects may understand a standard language used in broadcasting more readily than they would understand each other's. One can argue that such a lingua franca, if needed, will evolve by itself, but the desire to formulate and define it is very widespread in most parts of the world. Writers or communicators who wish to use words clearly, powerfully or effectively often use prescriptive rules, believing that these may make their communications more widely understood and unambiguous. The vast popularity of books providing advice on such matters shows that prescription meets a real, or at least widely perceived need.[citation needed] A dialect (from the Greek word διάλεκτος) is a variant, or variety, of a language spoken in a certain geographical area. ... A standard language (also standard dialect or standardized dialect) is a particular variety of a language that has been given either legal or quasi-legal status. ... Broadcasting is the distribution of audio and/or video signals which transmit programs to an audience. ... Lingua franca, literally Frankish language in Italian, was originally a mixed language consisting largely of Italian plus a vocabulary drawn from Turkish, Persian, French, Greek and Arabic and used for communication throughout the Middle East. ...


Prescription usually presupposes an authority whose judgment may be followed by other members of a speech community. Such an authority may be a prominent writer or educator such as Henry Fowler, whose English Usage defined the standard for British English for much of the 20th century. The Duden grammar has a similar status for German. Though dictionary makers usually see their work as purely descriptive, they are widely used as prescriptive authorities by the community at large. Popular books such as Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which argues for stricter adherence to prescriptive punctuation rules, have phases of fashionability and are authoritative to the degree that they attract a de facto following. Henry Watson Fowler (10 March 1858 – 26 December 1933) was an English schoolmaster, lexicographer and commentator on the usage of English. ... A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, often referred to simply as Fowlers Modern English Usage, or Fowler, is a style guide to British English usage, authored by Henry W. Fowler. ... British English (BrE, BE, en-GB) is the broad term used to distinguish the forms of the English language used in the United Kingdom from forms used elsewhere in the Anglophone world. ... The Duden () is a German dictionary, first published by Konrad Duden in 1880. ... Lynne Truss is a British writer and journalist. ... Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation is a short non-fiction book written by Lynne Truss, the former host of the BBCs Cutting a Dash radio programme. ...

However, in some language communities, linguistic prescription can be regulated formally. The Académie française (French Academy) in Paris is an example of a widely respected national body whose recommendations, though not legally enforceable, carry great authority. In Germany and the Netherlands, recent spelling reforms were devised by teams of linguists commissioned by government and were then implemented by statute. See for example German spelling reform of 1996. The Russian language was heavily prescribed during the Soviet period, deviations from the norm being purged by the Union of Soviet Writers. The Académie française In the French educational system an académie LAcadémie française, or the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. ... The German spelling reform of 1996 (Rechtschreibreform) is based on an international agreement signed in Vienna in July 1996 by the governments of the German-speaking countries Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, a quadrilingual country. ... Russian ( , transliteration: , ) is the most geographically widespread language of Eurasia and the most widely spoken of the Slavic languages. ... The History of the Soviet Union begins with the Russian Revolution of 1917. ... The USSR Union of Writers, or Union of Soviet Writers (Russian: ) was a creative union of professional writers in the USSR. It was founded in 1932 on the initiative of the Central Committee of the Communist Party The aim of the Union was to achieve Party and State control in...

Other kinds of authorities come into play in specific settings, such as publishers laying down a house style which, for example, may either prescribe or proscribe a serial comma. A publishing companys or periodicals house style is the collection of conventions in its manual of style. ... The serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma or Harvard comma) is the comma used immediately before a grammatical conjunction (nearly always and or or; sometimes nor) that precedes the last item in a list of three or more items. ...


Historically, a number of factors are found that give rise to prescriptive tendencies in language. Whenever a society reaches a level of complexity to the point where it acquires a permanent system of social stratification and hierarchy, the speech used by political and religious authorities is preserved and admired. This speech often takes on archaic and honorific colours. The style of language used in ritual also differs from everyday speech in many cultures. social stratification is the division of people of a particular society on the basis if occupation, income, power, prestige, authority, status, dignity, education, class, castle, gender, race and ethnicity In sociology, social stratification is the hierarchical arrangement of social classes, castes and strata within a society. ... A hierarchy (in Greek: , derived from — hieros, sacred, and — arkho, rule) is a system of ranking and organizing things or people, where each element of the system (except for the top element) is subordinate to a single other element. ... In language, an archaism is the deliberate use of an older form that has fallen out of current use. ... An honorific is a word or expression that conveys esteem or respect and is used in addressing or referring to a person. ... A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value, which is prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. ...

When writing is introduced into a culture, new avenues for standards are opened. Written language lacks voice tone and inflection, and other vocal features that serve to disambiguate speech, and tends to compensate for these by stricter adherence to norms. And since writers can take more time to think about their words, new avenues of standardisation open up. Thus literary language, the specific register of written language, lends itself to prescription to a higher degree than spoken language. Illustration of a scribe writing Writing, in its most common sense, is the preservation of and the preserved text on a medium, with the use of signs or symbols. ... A literary language is a register of a language that is used in writing, and which often differs in lexicon and syntax from the language used in speech. ... In linguistics, a register is a subset of a language used for a particular purpose or in a particular social setting. ...

The introduction of writing also introduces new economies into language. A body of written texts represents a sunk cost; changes in written language threaten to make the body of preserved texts obsolete, so writing creates an incentive to preserve older forms. In many places, writing was introduced by religious authorities, and serves as a vehicle for the values held to be prestigious by those authorities. Alphabets tend to follow religions; wherever western Christianity has spread, so has the Latin alphabet, while Eastern Orthodoxy is associated with the Greek or Cyrillic alphabets, and Islam goes hand in hand with the Arabic alphabet.[1] Similarly, the prestige of Chinese culture has preserved the usage of Chinese characters and caused their adaptation to the very different languages of Korea and Japan; the prestige of Chinese writing is such that, even when the Hangul alphabet was devised for Korean, the shapes of the letters were designed to fit the square frames of Chinese calligraphy.[2] It has been suggested that Bygones principle be merged into this article or section. ... For other uses, see Alphabet (disambiguation). ... Topics in Christianity Movements · Denominations Ecumenism · Preaching · Prayer Music · Liturgy · Calendar Symbols · Art · Criticism Important figures Apostle Paul · Church Fathers Constantine · Athanasius · Augustine Anselm · Aquinas · Palamas · Luther Calvin · Wesley Arius · Marcion of Sinope Archbishop of Canterbury · Catholic Pope Coptic Pope · Ecumenical Patriarch Christianity Portal This box:      Western Christianity is a... The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most widely used alphabetic writing system in the world today. ... ... This article needs additional references or sources for verification. ... For people named Islam, see Islam (name). ... The Arabic alphabet is the script used for writing languages such as Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and others. ... Japanese name Kanji: Kana: Korean name Hangul: Hanja: Vietnamese name Quoc Ngu: Hantu: A Chinese character (Simplified Chinese: ; Traditional Chinese: ; Pinyin: ) is a logogram used in writing Chinese, Japanese, sometimes Korean, and formerly Vietnamese. ... This article is mainly about the spoken Korean language. ... Jamo redirects here. ... Contemporary Calligraphy Calligraphy (from Greek kallos beauty + graphẽ writing) is the art of beautiful writing (Mediavilla 1996: 17). ...

Egyptian hieroglyphics from the Ptolemaic Temple of Kom Ombo preserve written norms that date from the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, a thousand years earlier.

Bureaucracy is another factor that encourages prescriptive tendencies in language. When government centres arise, people acquire different forms of language which they use in dealing with the government, which may be seated far from the locality of the governed. Standard writs and other legal forms create a body of precedent in language that tends to be reused over generations and centuries. In more recent times, the effects of bureaucracy have been accelerated by the popularisation of travel and telecommunications; people grow accustomed to hearing speech from distant areas. Eventually, these several factors encourage standards to arise; this phenomenon has been observed since ancient Egyptian, where the spelling of the Middle Kingdom was preserved well into the Ptolemaic period in the standard usage of Egyptian hieroglyphics.[3] Image File history File links Metadata No higher resolution available. ... Image File history File links Metadata No higher resolution available. ... Hieroglyphs are a system of writing used by the Ancient Egyptians, using a combination of logographic, syllabic, and alphabetic elements. ... Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Greats generals, was appointed satrap of Egypt after Alexanders death in 323 BC. In 305 BC he declared himself King Ptolemy I, later known as Soter (saviour). ... The double entrance to Kom Ombo Temple The Temple of Kom Ombo is an unusual double temple built during the Ptolemaic Period in the Egyptian town of Kom Ombo. ... The Middle Kingdom is a period in the history of ancient Egypt stretching from the establishment of the Eleventh Dynasty to the end of the Fourteenth Dynasty, roughly between 2030 BC and 1640 BC. The period comprises two phases, the 11th Dynasty, which ruled from Thebes and the 12th Dynasty... The Politics series Politics Portal This box:      This article is about the sociological concept. ... In law, a writ is a formal written order issued by a body with administrative or judicial jurisdiction. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Telecommunication involves the transmission of signals over a distance for the purpose of communication. ... Spoken in: Ancient Egypt Language extinction: evolved into Demotic by 600 BC, into Coptic by AD 200, and was extinct by the 17th century Language family: Afro-Asiatic  Egyptian  Writing system: hieroglyphs, cursive hieroglyphs, hieratic, and demotic (later, occasionally Arabic script in government translations) Language codes ISO 639-1: none... The Middle Kingdom is a period in the history of ancient Egypt stretching from the establishment of the Eleventh Dynasty to the end of the Fourteenth Dynasty, roughly between 2030 BC and 1640 BC. The period comprises two phases, the 11th Dynasty, which ruled from Thebes and the 12th Dynasty... Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Greats generals, was appointed satrap of Egypt after Alexanders death in 323 BC. In 305 BC he declared himself King Ptolemy I, later known as Soter (saviour). ... Hieroglyphs are a system of writing used by the Ancient Egyptians, using a combination of logographic, syllabic, and alphabetic elements. ...

All language in developed societies therefore tends to exist on a continuum of styles. Privileged language is used in legal, ceremonial, and religious contexts, and tends to be prized over local and private speech. Written styles necessarily differ from spoken language, given the different stratagems used to communicate in writing as opposed to speech. Where the discontinuity between a high and a low style of language becomes marked, a state of diglossia arises: here, the privileged language requires special study to master, and is not instantly intelligible to the untrained. The very difficulty of the systems inspires a preservationist urge, since instruction in them represents a large effort. The writer who has mastered Chinese calligraphy or English spelling has put a great deal of time into acquiring a skill, and is likely to resist its devaluation through simplification.[4] Look up Diglossia in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Calligraphy is an art dating back to the earliest day of history, and widely practiced throughout China to this day. ... English spelling (or orthography), although largely phonemic, has more complicated rules than many other spelling systems used by languages written in alphabetic scripts and contains many inconsistencies between spelling and pronunciation, necessitating rote learning for anyone learning to read or write English. ...


The primary source of prescriptive judgments is descriptive study.[citation needed] From the earliest attempts at prescription in classical times, grammarians have observed what is in fact usual in a prestige variety of a language and based their norms upon this. Modern prescription, for example in school textbooks, draws heavily on the results of descriptive linguistic analysis. Because prescription is generally based on description, it is very rare for a form to be prescribed which does not already exist in the language.

However, prescription also involves conscious choices, privileging some existing forms over others. Such choices are often strategic, aimed at maximising clarity and precision in language use. Sometimes they may be based on entirely subjective judgments about what constitutes good taste. Sometimes there is a conscious decision to promote the language of one class or region within a language community, and this can become politically controversial — see below.

Sometimes prescription is motivated by an ethical position, as with the prohibition of swear words. The desire to avoid language which refers too specifically to matters of sexuality or toilet hygiene may result in a sense that the words themselves are obscene. Similar is the condemnation of expletives which offend against religion, or more recently of language which is not considered politically correct. Look up Profanity in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Political correctness is the alteration of language to redress real or alleged injustices and discrimination or to avoid offense. ...

It is sometimes claimed that in centuries past, English prescription was based on the norms of Latin grammar, but this is doubtful. Robert Lowth is frequently cited as one who did this, but in fact he specifically condemned "forcing the English under the rules of a foreign Language".[5] It is true that analogies with Latin were sometimes used as substantiating arguments, but only when the forms being thus defended were in any case the norm in the prestige form of English. A good example is the split infinitive: supporters of the construction frequently claim the old prohibition was based on a false analogy with Latin, but this seems to be a straw man argument; it is difficult to find a serious writer who ever argued against the split infinitive on the basis of such an analogy, and the earliest authority to advise against the construction, an anonymous American grammarian in 1834, gave a very clear statement basing his view on descriptive observation.[6] Latin, like all other ancient Indo-European languages, is highly inflectional, which allows for very flexible word order. ... Robert Lowth, D. D. Lord Bishop of London Robert Lowth (November 27, 1710 – November 3, 1787) was a Bishop of the Church of England, a professor of poetry at Oxford University and the author of one of the most influential textbooks of English grammar. ... A split infinitive is a grammatical construction in the English language where a word or phrase, usually an adverb or adverbial phrase, occurs between the marker to and the bare infinitive (uninflected) form of a verb. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... A straw man or man of straw is a dummy in the shape of a human created by stuffing straw into clothes. ... A split infinitive is a grammatical construction in the English language where a word or phrase, usually an adverb or adverbial phrase, occurs between the marker to and the bare infinitive (uninflected) form of a verb. ...


Literacy and first language teaching in schools is traditionally prescriptive. Both educators and parents often agree that mastery of a prestige variety of the language is one of the goals of education.[citation needed] Since the 1970s there has been a widespread trend to balance this with other priorities, such as encouraging children to find their own forms of expression and be creative also with non-standard speech-patterns. Nevertheless, the acquisition of spoken and written skills in normative language varieties remains a key aim of schools around the world. This article is about the ability to read and write. ... “Native Language” redirects here. ... An acrolect is a register of a spoken language that is considered formal and high-style. ...

Foreign language teaching is necessarily prescriptive. Here the students have no prior idiom of their own in the target language and are entirely focused on the acquisition of norms laid down by others. It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with language education. ...


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While most people would agree that some kinds of prescriptive teaching or advice are desirable, prescription easily becomes controversial. Many linguists are highly skeptical of the quality of advice given in many usage guides, particularly when the authors are not qualified in languages or linguistics. Some popular books on English usage written by journalists or novelists bring prescription generally into disrepute by making basic errors in grammatical analysis. Even when practiced by competent experts (as in text-books written by language teachers), giving wise advice is not always easy, and things can go badly wrong. A number of issues pose potential pitfalls. Image File history File links Circle-question. ...

One of the most serious of these is that prescription has a tendency to favour the language of one particular region or social class over others, and thus militates against linguistic diversity. Frequently a standard dialect is associated with the upper class, as for example Great Britain's Received Pronunciation. RP has now lost much of its status as the Anglophone standard, being replaced by the dual standards of General American and British NRP (non-regional pronunciation). While these have a more democratic base, they are still standards which exclude large parts of the English-speaking world: speakers of Scottish English, Hiberno-English, Australian English, or AAVE may feel the standard is slanted against them. Thus prescription has clear political consequences. In the past, prescription was used consciously as a political tool; today, prescription usually attempts to avoid this pitfall, but this can be difficult to do. Upper class refers to the group of people at the top of a social hierarchy. ... Note: This page or section contains IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. ... Note: This page or section contains IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. ... Scottish English is usually taken to mean the standard form of the English language used in Scotland, often termed Scottish Standard English. ... Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... Australian English (AuE, AusE, en-AU) is the form of the English language used in Australia. ... African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), also called Ebonics, Black English, or Black English Vernacular (BEV) is a dialect of American English. ...

A second problem with prescription is that prescriptive rules quickly become entrenched and it is difficult to change them when the language changes. Thus there is a tendency for prescription to be overly conservative. When in the early 19th century, prescriptive use advised against the split infinitive, the main reason was that this construction was not in fact a frequent feature of the varieties of English favoured by those prescribing. Today it has become common in most varieties of English, and a prohibition is no longer sensible. However, the rule endured long after the justification for it had disappeared. In this way, prescription can appear to be antithetical to natural language evolution, although this is usually not the intention of those formulating the rules. This problem is compounded by the fact that books which gain a following can remain in print long after they have become dated. This is the case, for example, with Strunk & White, which remains popular in the United States although much of its text was formulated in the 19th century. A split infinitive is a grammatical construction in the English language where a word or phrase, usually an adverb or adverbial phrase, occurs between the marker to and the bare infinitive (uninflected) form of a verb. ... The Elements of Style (the little book – 1918) is an American English writing style guide detailing seven elementary rules of usage, ten elementary principles of composition and a few matters of form and commonly misused expressions. ...

A further problem is the difficulty of defining legitimate criteria. Although prescribing authorities almost invariably have clear ideas about why they make a particular choice, and the choices are therefore seldom entirely arbitrary, they often appear arbitrary to others who do not understand or are not in sympathy with the criteria. Judgments which seek to resolve ambiguity or increase the ability of the language to make subtle distinctions are easier to defend. Judgments based on the subjective associations of a word are more problematic.

Finally, there is the problem of inappropriate dogmatism. While competent authorites tend to make careful statements, popular pronouncements on language are apt to condemn. Thus wise prescriptive advice may identify a form as non-standard and suggest it be used with caution in some contexts; repeated in the school room this may become a ruling that the non-standard form is automatically wrong, a view which linguists reject. (Linguists may accept that a form is incorrect if it fails to communicate, but not simply because it diverges from a norm.) A classic example from 18th-century England is Robert Lowth's tentative suggestion that preposition stranding in relative clauses sounds colloquial; from this grew a grammatical dogma that a sentence should never end with a preposition. Preposition stranding, sometimes called P-stranding, is the syntactic construction in which a preposition appears without an object. ... This article is focused mainly on usage of English relative clauses. ...

Prescription and description

Descriptive approaches

Linguistics has always required a process called description, which involves observing language and creating conceptual categories for it without establishing rules of language.[citation needed] However in the 16th and 17th centuries, in which modern linguistics began, projects in lexicography provided the basis for 18th and 19th century comparative work - mainly on classical languages. By the early 20th century, this focus shifted to modern languages as the descriptive approach of analyzing speech and writings became more formal. Despite this following appearance, the more fundamental descriptive method was used prior to the advent of prescription, and is the key to linguistic research. The reason for this priorhood is that linguistics, as any other branch of science, requires observation and analysis of a natural phenomenon, such as the order of words in communication, which may be done without prescriptive rules. In descriptive linguistics, nonstandard varieties of language are held to be no more or less correct than standard varieties of languages. Whether or not observational methods are seen to be more objective than prescriptive methods, the outcomes of using prescriptive methods are also subject to description. This article does not cite its references or sources. ... Lexicography is either of two things Practical lexicography is the art or craft of writing dictionaries. ... The comparative method (in comparative linguistics) is a technique used by linguists to demonstrate genetic relationships between languages. ... A classical language is a language with a literary tradition that can be judged as classical. According to George L. Hart: [To] qualify as a classical tradition, a language must fit several criteria: it should be ancient, it should be an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own not... A modern language is any human language that is used by societies in the world today. ... A natural phenomenon is a non-artificial event in the physical sense, and therefore not produced by humans, although it may affect humans (e. ...

Prescription and description in conflict

Given any particular language controversy, prescription and description represent quite different, though not necessarily incompatible, approaches to thinking about it.

For example, a descriptive linguist working in English would describe the word ain't in terms of usage, distribution, and history, observing both the growth in its popularity but also the resistance to it in some parts of the language community. Prescription, on the other hand, would consider whether it met criteria of rationality, historical grammatical usage, or conformity to a contemporary standard dialect. When a form does not conform — as is the case for ain't — the prescriptivist will recommend avoiding it in formal contexts. These two approaches are not incompatible, as they attempt different tasks for different purposes. This article does not cite its references or sources. ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... Look up aint in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... A standard language (also standard dialect or standardized dialect) is a particular variety of a language that has been given either legal or quasi-legal status. ...

However, description and prescription can appear to be in conflict when stronger statements are made on either side. When an extreme prescriptivist wishes to condemn a very commonly used language phenomenon as solecism or barbarism or simply as vulgar, the evidence of description may testify to the acceptability of the form. This would be the case if someone wished to argue that ain't should not even be used in colloquial spoken English. Prescriptive statements will sometimes be heard which suggest that a word is inherently ugly; a descriptive approach will deny the meaningfulness of this judgment. In such instances of controversy, most linguists fall heavily on the descriptive side of the argument, accepting forms as correct or acceptable when they achieve general currency. In linguistic prescriptivism, a solecism is a grammatical or other mistake or absurdity. ... Barbarism is a language error where a non-standard or an incorrectly formed word or expression is used. ...

On the other hand, some adherents of a strongly descriptive approach may argue that prescription is always undesirable. Sometimes they see it as reactionary or stifling. A "pure descriptivist" believes that no language form can ever be incorrect and that advice on language usage is always misplaced. However, this is a very rare position. Most of those who claim to oppose prescription per se are in fact only inimical to those forms of prescription not supported by current descriptive analysis.

See also

Prescription is the formulation of normative rules for language use. ... This article does not cite its references or sources. ... A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, often referred to simply as Fowlers Modern English Usage, or Fowler, is a style guide to British English usage, authored by Henry W. Fowler. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Many countries have a language policy designed to favour or discourage the use of a particular language or set of languages. ... This article or section does not cite any references or sources. ... A mondegreen is the mishearing (usually accidental) of a phrase as a homophone or near-homophone in such a way that it acquires a new meaning. ... Politics and the English Language (1946) is an essay by George Orwell wherein he criticizes ugly and inaccurate contemporary written English, and asserts that it was both a cause and an effect of foolish thinking and dishonest politics. ... In linguistics, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (SWH) states that there is a systematic relationship between the grammatical categories of the language a person speaks and how that person both understands the world and behaves in it. ... // Pleonasm is the use of more words (or even word-parts) than necessary to express an idea clearly. ... Logorrhoea or logorrhea (Greek λογορροια, logorrhoia, “word-flux”) is defined as an “excessive flow of words” and, when used medically, refers to incoherent talkativeness that occurs in certain kinds of mental illness, such as mania. ... Some English words are often used in ways that are contentious among writers on usage and other prescriptivists. ... The meanings of words in the English language often change over time. ... In linguistics, traditional grammar is a cover name for the collection of concepts and ideas about the structure of language that Western societies have received from ancient Greek and Roman sources. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ...


  1. ^ David Diringer, The Alphabet: A Key to the History of Mankind (1947; South Asia, reprinted 1996); ISBN 81-215-0748-0
  2. ^ Florian Coulmas, The Writing Systems of the World (Blackwell, 1989), ISBN 0-631-18028-1
  3. ^ Allen, James P., Middle Egyptian — An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs, (Cambridge University Press, 1999) ISBN 0-521-65312-6
  4. ^ For more, see simplified Chinese character; English spelling reform.
  5. ^ A Short Introduction to English Grammar, p. 107, condemning Richard Bentley's "corrections" of some of Milton's constructions.
  6. ^ "P." (December 1834). "Inaccuracies of Diction. Grammar". The New-England Magazine 7 (6): pp. 467–470. Retrieved on Oct. 26, 2006. 

David Diringer, (1900-1975), is a British linguist, alphabetologist, palaeographer, writer. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... English spelling reform is the collective term [ — see talk page] for various campaigns to change the spelling system of English to make it simpler and more rationally consistent. ... Richard Bentley (January 27, 1662 – July 14, 1742) was an English theologian, Classics scholar and critic. ... For other persons named John Milton, see John Milton (disambiguation). ...


  • Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, ISBN 0-87779-132-5
  • Strunk and White's The Elements of Style
  • Fowler's Modern English Usage
  • Simon Blackburn, 1996 [1994], "descriptive meaning," Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, pp. 101-102 for possible difficulty of separating the descriptive and evaluative

The Elements of Style, 2000 edition. ... A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, often referred to simply as Fowlers Modern English Usage, or Fowler, is a style guide to British English usage, authored by Henry W. Fowler. ...

Additional resources

  Results from FactBites:
Prescription and description - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1360 words)
In linguistics, prescription is the laying down or prescribing of normative rules for a language.
Some prescriptive statements are phrased in the language of description: for instance, in many contexts "a man takes responsibility for his actions" would be understood as saying that a man ought to take responsibility for his actions.
Lowth's grammar is the source of many of the prescriptive shibboleths that are studied in schools and was the first of a long line of usage commentators to judge the language in addition to describing it.
  More results at FactBites »



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