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Encyclopedia > Prescription and description
Linguistics
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"Descriptivism" redirects here. Descriptivism can also refer to the descriptivist theory of names..

In linguistics, prescription is the laying down or prescribing of normative rules for the use of a language. A milder form of prescriptivism makes "recommendations" for good language usage. This is in contrast to the description of language, which simply describes how language is used in practice. Linguistics is the scientific study of human language, and someone who engages in this study is called a linguist. ... Theoretical linguistics studies diverse questions: how certain languages managed to communicate, what properties all languages have in common, what knowledge a person must have to be able to use a language, and language acquisition. ... Phonetics (from the Greek word φωνή, phone = sound/voice) is the study of sounds (voice). ... The vowels of modern (Standard) Arabic and (Israeli) Hebrew from the phonological point of view. ... Morphology is a subdiscipline of linguistics that studies word structure. ... Syntax, originating from the Greek words συν (syn, meaning co- or together) and τάξις (táxis, meaning sequence, order, arrangement), can in linguistics be described as the study of the rules, or patterned relations that govern the way the words in a sentence come together. ... In the main, semantics (from the Greek and in greek letters σημαντικός or in latin letters semantikós, or significant meaning, derived from sema, sign) is the study of meaning, in some sense of that term. ... Lexical semantics is a field in computer science and linguistics which deals mainly with word meaning. ... The Prototype is what a Stereotype is called in cognitive linguitics. ... 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. ... Pragmatics is generally the study of natural language understanding, and specifically the study of how context influences the interpretation of meanings. ... Applied linguistics is concerned with using linguistic theory to address real-world problems. ... Psycholinguistics or psychology of language is the study of the psychological and neurobiological factors that enable humans to acquire, use, and understand language. ... Sociolinguistics is the study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used. ... 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. ... Descriptive linguistics is the work of analyzing and describing how language is actually spoken now (or how it was actually spoken in the past), by any group of people. ... Historical linguistics (also diachronic linguistics or comparative linguistics) is primarily the study of the ways in which languages change over time. ... Historical linguistics (also diachronic linguistics or comparative linguistics) is primarily the study of the ways in which languages change over time, by means of examining languages which are recognizably related through similarities such as vocabulary, word formation, and syntax, as well as the surviving records of ancient languages. ... Etymology is the study of the origins of words. ... A linguist is a person who studies linguistics. ... Lack or scarcity of data can hold the clasification of a language. ... Descriptivist theory of names is a view of the nature of the meaning and reference of proper names generally attributed to Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell. ... Linguistics is the scientific study of human language, and someone who engages in this study is called a linguist. ...


Outside the field of linguistics, these terms are used in a more general sense to indicate whether a statement is reporting a state of affairs or presenting it as desirable. For example, "People should take responsibility for their actions" is a prescriptive statement; "Some people don't take responsibility for their actions" is a descriptive one. Some prescriptive statements are phrased in the language of description: for instance, in many contexts "People take responsibility for their actions" would be understood as saying that people ought to take responsibility for their actions. "People", in the latter case, is used to represent what the speaker considers normative for people.

Contents


Examples of linguistic prescription

For example, a descriptive linguist (descriptivist) working in English would describe the word "ain't" in terms of usage, distribution, and history rather than correctness; while acknowledging it a nonstandard form, the descriptivist would accept the broad principle that as a language evolves it often incorporates such items and thus would not didactically reject the term as never appropriate. A pure descriptivist only ever accepts or rejects forms of expression based on popularity and comprehensibility. A prescriptivist, on the other hand, would rule on whether "ain't" met some criterion of rationality, historical grammatical usage, or conformity to a contemporary standard dialect. Frequently this standard dialect is associated with the upper class (e.g., Great Britain's Received Pronunciation). When a form does not conform — as is the case for "ain't" — the prescriptivist will condemn it as a solecism or barbarism or common in the sense of vulgar, prescribing that it not be used. A pure prescriptivist would never accept new forms of expression, except to describe new concepts. Descriptive linguistics is the work of analyzing and describing how language is actually spoken now (or how it was actually spoken in the past), by any group of people. ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... Look up aint in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... 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. ... Upper class refers to a group of people at the top of a social hierarchy. ... Received Pronunciation (RP) is a form of pronunciation of the English language, sometimes defined as the educated spoken English of southeastern England. ... 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. ...


Most linguists fall heavily on the descriptive side of this position, accepting new forms as correct or acceptable when they achieve general currency in spoken and/or written language. In academic fora, they may of course conform to prescriptive norms for the sake of publication.


A history of linguistic prescription in English

Origins

Languages, especially standard languages or official languages used in courts of law, for administration of government, and for the promulgation of official works, tend to acquire norms and standards over time. Once English became the language of administration of law in England, a form of late Middle English called chancery English became such a standard. When William Caxton introduced printing with movable type into England, the norms of his grammar and spelling were taken largely from chancery English. 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. ... An official language is a language that is given a privileged legal status in a state, or other legally-defined territory. ... Middle English is the name given by historical linguistics to the diverse forms of the English language spoken between the Norman invasion in 1066 and the mid-to-late 15th century, when the Chancery Standard, a form of London-based English, began to become widespread, a process aided by the... Middle English is the name given by historical linguistics to the diverse forms of the English language spoken between the Norman invasion in 1066 and the mid-to-late 15th century, when the Chancery Standard, a form of London-based English, began to become widespread, a process aided by the... William Caxton (c. ... This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. ... Movable Type is a proprietary weblog publishing system developed by California-based Six Apart. ...


However, the "correction" of English grammar was not a large subject of formal study until the eighteenth century. Poet John Dryden remarked that the grammar in use in his day (second half of 1600s) was an improvement over the usage of William Shakespeare. Dryden was himself the first to promulgate the rule that a sentence must not end with a preposition, a rule taken from Latin grammar (see preposition). Samuel Johnson's 1755 dictionary contributed to the standardization of English spelling. More influentially, the first of a long line of prescriptionist usage commentators, Robert Lowth, published A Short Introduction to English Grammar in 1762. 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. For example, the following footnote from his grammar is, in turn, descriptive and prescriptive: "Whose is by some authors made the Possessive Case of which, and applied to things as well as persons; I think, improperly." (17th century - 18th century - 19th century - more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 18th century refers to the century that lasted from 1701 through 1800. ... John Dryden John Dryden (August 9, 1631 – May 12, 1700) was an influential English poet, literary critic, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known as the Age of Dryden. ... 1597 1598 1599 - 1600 - 1601 1602 1603 |- | align=center colspan=2 | Decades: 1570s 1580s 1590s - 1600s - 1610s 1620s 1630s |- | align=center | Centuries: 15th century - 16th century - 17th century |} // Events January January 1 - Scotland adopts January 1st as being New Years Day February February 17 - Giordano Bruno burned at the... Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this exact name. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with adposition. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with adposition. ... Samuel Johnson circa 1772, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. ... 1755 was a common year starting on Wednesday (see link for calendar). ... A dictionary is a list of words with their definitions, a list of characters with their glyphs, or a list of words with corresponding words in other languages. ... It has been suggested that Letter-sound pairs in English be merged into this article or section. ... 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. ... 1762 was a common year starting on Friday (see link for calendar). ... Look up Shibboleth in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...


Lowth's method included criticising "false syntax"; his examples of false syntax were culled from Shakespeare, the King James Bible, John Donne, John Milton, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and other famous writers. His approach was based largely on Latin grammar, and a number of his judgments were arrived at by applying Latin grammar to English, though this contradicted his own stated principles. Thus Lowth condemns Addison's sentence "Who should I meet the other night, but my old friend?" on the grounds that the thing acted upon should be in the "Objective Case", corresponding, as he says earlier, to an oblique case in Latin. (Descriptive critics, on the other hand, would take this example and others as evidence from noted writers that "who" can refer to direct objects in English.) Lowth's ipse dixits appealed to those who wished for certainty and authority in their language. Lowth's grammar was not written for children; nonetheless, within a decade of its appearance, versions of it were adapted for schools, and Lowth's stylistic opinions acquired the force of law in the classroom. This articles subsection called Criticism is missing references or citation of sources. ... John Donne John Donne (pronounced Dun; 1572 – March 31, 1631) was a Jacobean metaphysical poet. ... John Milton, English poet John Milton (December 9, 1608 – November 8, 1674) was an English poet, best-known for his epic poem Paradise Lost. ... Jonathan Swift Jonathan Swift (November 30, 1667 – October 19, 1745) was an Anglo-Irish priest, satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, and poet famous for works like Gullivers Travels, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, The Drapiers Letters, The Battle of the Books, and A Tale of a Tub. ... Alexander Pope, an English poet best known for his Essay on Criticism and Rape of the Lock Pope, circa 1727. ... Latin is an ancient Indo-European language originally spoken in the region around Rome called Latium. ... Joseph Addison, the Kit-cat portrait, circa 1703–1712, by Godfrey Kneller. ... An oblique case (Lat. ... This page lists direct English translations of common Latin phrases, such as veni vidi vici and et cetera. ...


Wider dissemination

During the nineteenth century, with the rise of popular journalism, the common usage of a tightly-knit educated and governing class was extended to a more widely literate public than before or since, through the usage of editors of newspapers and magazines. There therefore began to be a broader market for usage guides. In general, these attempted to elucidate the distinctions between different words and constructions, promoting some and condemning others as unclear, declassé, or simply wrong. Perhaps the most well-known and historically important text of this sort was Henry Watson Fowler's idiosyncratic and much praised Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Originally published in 1926, it was extensively revised for the 1996 third edition, and remains a primary reference for many educated speakers and editors. Besides Fowler, other writers in this tradition include the 19th-century poet and editor William Cullen Bryant, and, in the 20th-century, Theodore Bernstein and William Safire. Alternative meaning: Nineteenth Century (periodical) (18th century — 19th century — 20th century — more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 19th century was that century which lasted from 1801-1900 in the sense of the Gregorian calendar. ... Journalism is a discipline of collecting, analyzing, verifying, and presenting information gathered regarding current events, including trends, issues and people. ... An Editor is a person who prepares text—typically language, but also images and sounds—for publication by correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying it. ... A collection of magazines A magazine is a periodical publication containing a variety of articles, generally financed by advertising and/or purchase by readers. ... Henry Watson Fowler (10 March 1858 - 26 December 1933) was an English schoolmaster, lexicographer and commentator on usage, notable for both Fowlers Modern English Usage (first published 1926) and his work on the Concise Oxford Dictionary. ... William Cullen Bryant William Cullen Bryant (November 3, 1794 - June 12, 1878) was an American Romantic poet and journalist. ... William L. Safire on NBCs Meet The Press with Tim Russert. ...


Contemporary stylebooks such as the Associated Press Stylebook, from the Associated Press in the United States, or The Times Style and Usage Guide, from The Times in the United Kingdom, are prescriptive in intent, for use by editors of their respective publications to standardise presentation. A slightly outdated edition of the Stylebook The The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, usually simply called the AP Stylebook and nicknamed the journalists bible, is the primary guide of style and usage for most newspapers and newsmagazines in the United States. ... Associated Press logo The Associated Press, or AP, is an American news agency, the worlds largest such organization. ... The Times is a national newspaper published daily in the United Kingdom since 1785, and under its current name since 1788. ...


Criticism

During the second half of the twentieth century, the prescriptionist tradition of usage commentators started to fall under increasing criticism. Thus, works such as the Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, appearing in 1993, attempt to describe usage issues of words and syntax as they are actually used by writers of note, rather than to judge them by standards derived from logic, fine distinctions, or Latin grammar. Academics will note that the Oxford English Dictionary has always been a descriptive text. (19th century - 20th century - 21st century - more centuries) Decades: 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s The 20th century lasted from 1901 to 2000 in the Gregorian calendar (often from (1900 to 1999 in common usage). ... 1993 (MCMXCIII) was a common year starting on Friday of the Gregorian calendar and marked the Beginning of the International Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination (1993-2003). ... The Oxford English Dictionary print set The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is a dictionary published by the Oxford University Press (OUP). ...


Scientific linguistics is descriptivist. As in most academic disciplines, the purpose of scholarship is understood to be the observation and analysis of phenomena as they actually appear in the world. Nonstandard varieties are held to be no more or less 'correct' than standard varieties, though it is recognised that many speakers of the latter look down on nonstandard forms. it is commonly accepted in linguistics that any dialect of any natural language can be used for any purpose, including higher education. In the 18th and 19th centuries philologists expected to find 'primitive' languages in the new colonies around the world, but never did. As a result linguists soon came to understand that there is no such thing and that this principle also applies to nonstandard varieties of European languages. Every dialect of every language has its own strengths: Edward Sapir even suggested that Navajo was better suited for use in theoretical physics because the grammar encodes concepts that are difficult to express in English. Edward Sapir. ... The term Navajo (occasionally spelled Navaho) or Diné refers to the Navajo Nation and its people, and to the Navajo language. ...


However, while virtually all linguists see the rise of the descriptive approach as a positive development, a few might contend that there is still a place for elements of prescriptivism in some contexts. Most people would agree that standardised languages are useful for interregional communication, for example. Learners of foreign languages might use prescriptive metaphors and rule-based learning to help understand the descriptive accuracy of those languages. And writers or communicators who wish to use words clearly, powerfully or effectively use prescriptive rules partly to make their communications widely understood and unambiguous, and partly as a proxy for the moving target of "current usage" as measured by descriptive linguistics. Further, because of the sheer amount of resources spent on arbitrary grammar teaching in primary and secondary school situations, it is unlikely that prescriptive approaches will disappear entirely, due to the popular misconception that they have some basis in reality.


Topics in English usage prescription

See also: Disputed English grammar Cases of disputed English grammar arise when individuals disagree about what should be considered correct English in particular grammatical constructions. ...

Look up aint in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... In grammar the comparative is the form of an adjective or adverb which denotes the degree or grade by which a person, thing, or other entity has a property or quality greater or less in extent than that of another. ... A comparison is an evaluation of similarities and differences - described by Gregory Bateson in his book Mind and Nature as the two quanta of experience. ... In computer software standards and documentation, deprecation is the gradual phasing-out of a software or programming language feature. ... A double negative occurs when two forms of negation are used in the same sentence. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with adposition. ... The serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma or Harvard comma) is the comma used immediately before a conjunction (such as and or or) in a list of three or more items. ... Singular they, sometimes called epicene they, is the usage in the English language of the gender-neutral third-person plural pronoun they and its inflected forms — they, them, their, theirs, themselves (or themself) — to refer to a single person, often of indeterminate sex, as for example in: Have you ever... 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 the verb. ... In grammar, the superlative of an adjective or adverb indicates that a member of a set transcends the other members in some way. ... In the Southern United States dialects of American English and in Appalachian English, the term yall, a contraction of you all, serves as the vernacular second-person plural pronoun. ...

See also

Descriptive linguistics is the work of analyzing and describing how language is actually spoken now (or how it was actually spoken in the past), by any group of people. ... 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. ... Hypercorrection is (1) elaborate, prescriptively based correction of common language usage, often introduced in an attempt to avoid vulgarity or informality, that results in wording commonly considered clumsier than the usual, colloquial usage (for example, in English, adherence to the proscription against split infinitives or the ending of a clause... Politics and the English Language (1946) is one of George Orwells most famous essays. ... 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 than necessary to express an idea. ... Logorrhoea (US/Canadian 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. ...

References

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. ...

Additional resources

  • Language Police at Kerim's Wiki
  • The Original English Movement: The ultimate in English prescriptivism, which suggests undoing the damage done to the language by the Norman invasion.
  • Ideology, Power and Linguistic Theory (pdf format) a paper about descriptivism and prescriptivism by Geoffrey Pullum.

  Results from FactBites:
 
Prescription and description at AllExperts (3014 words)
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.
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.
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 known to those prescribing.
Prescription and description at AllExperts (2969 words)
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.
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.
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 known to those prescribing.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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