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Prescriptivism v Descriptivism

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Presentation on theme: "Prescriptivism v Descriptivism"— Presentation transcript:

1 Prescriptivism v Descriptivism
The great debate

2 What is prescriptivism?
In relation to linguistics this is one of the most basic notions that you must become familiar with. It is the school of thought that concerns itself with how language in particular spelling, grammar, pronunciation and syntax. It determines what is socially proper and politically correct. It also aids standardisation in that it helps to develop a universal means of communication. Most people would agree that in all of these areas it is meaningful to describe some usages as, at least, inappropriate in particular contexts. One main aim of prescription is to draw workable guidelines for language users seeking advice in such matters.

3 "A prescriptive grammar is essentially a manual that focuses on constructions where usage is divided, and lays down rules governing the socially correct use of language. These grammars were a formative influence on language attitudes in Europe and America during the 18th and 19th centuries. Their influence lives on in the handbooks of usage widely found today, such as A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926) by Henry Watson Fowler ( ), though such books include recommendations about the use of pronunciation, spelling, and vocabulary as well as grammar." (David Crystal, How Language Works. Overlook Press, 2005)

4 Historically It dates back to Ancient civilisations who used orthography to implement a widespread standard means of communication. (as we saw at the beginning of our unit) Prescriptivism was used to establish social stratification (formation of groups) and social hierarchy. It was seen specifically through out the government, the church and the military. Going back in history the majority of people were not educated nor did they know how to write. Their communication relied on a common tongue. Prescriptivism helped to distinguish and separate from this common tongue into a highly thought of standard language. The result of this has caused diglossia in which speakers choose not speak a dialect that linguistically indicates lower class or prestige.

5 NOW: Prescriptivism approach is still prevalent in society in terms of beliefs, values and opinions. ‘The way you should speak!!’ ‘That’s not proper English’ The most common prevalence of prescriptivism is seen in schools. Text books on linguistics, grammar and spelling, all indicate how one should write and speak. The dictionary refers to the grammatical usages and often gives examples to highlight this. Rules and regulations in how we speak and write can be said to stem from how and what we are taught. Swear words: what is and is not linguistically acceptable when it comes to swearing. What constitutes good taste? Attitudes towards products, regions, communities, genders and ethnicities.

6 Political and Ideological Aims?
A complementary aim of linguistic prescription is said to be the imposition of a political ideology. Linguistic rules that determine Political Correctness. Ideas and rules that relate to how we use language to navigate issues on sex, race, gender and discrimination

7 PROBLEMATIC? Prescription has a tendency to favour the language of one particular region or social class over others, and thus militates against linguistic diversity. The standard variety can often be associated with the upper class and can have clear political and social consequences. 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 excessively conservative. As these rules are rigid and conservative, prescription can be considered antithetical (hostile) towards natural linguistic evolution.

8 Problematic? Inappropriate dogmatism. While competent authorities tend to make careful statements, popular pronouncements on language are apt to condemn. For instance the “correct” use of language in schools can often create this stigma that non standard varieties of English of substandard or inferior. This is not the case and can cause inequalities in society. Eg Australian English v Australian Aboriginal English

9 In opposition? Descriptivism! But we will speak more about this next lesson!! In the mean time: Read the 3 articles I have given you concerning prescriptivism and descriptivism. What are the main ideas being posed here.



12 Descriptivism This challenges prescriptivism as it focuses not on what we should be saying, but how we actually speak. It aims to observe the linguistic world as it is without the linguistic bias affecting these observations. Descriptive grammarians ask the question, “What is English (or another language) like — what are its forms and how do they function in various situations?” By contrast, prescriptive grammarians ask “What shouldEnglish be like — what forms should people use and what functions should they serve?”

13 What subsystems can we relate this to?
A description of the phonology of the language in question. A description of the morphology of words belonging to that language. A description of the syntax of well-formed sentences of that language. A description of spelling in variations of english A description of lexical derivations.

14 What does it rely on? Context!
When, where and what is being spoken. What types of language being used and what implied meanings can we interpret from these words, expression and sentences.

15 Problems? Text can be interpreted any which way. If we constantly read the meaning, misinterpretations can occur. Just like when you send a text and it is misinterpreted by the other person. Spoken language is very different from written language. If we wrote how we spoke half the time the meaning would be lost and confusion may occur. If you were to record a conversation you had with 5-6 mates, most likely many would find the written version quite confusing as it lacks context, prosodic indications and paralinguistic features. WHO DECIDES WHAT IS RIGHT? If we don’t have a so called authority on language, then mispronunciations, misspellings, incorrect information flow. If everyone did not adopt a uniform approach then many variations would occur. Subsequently the predicament of trying to understand others would become even more difficult.

16 A one way approach? To what extent are both opinions correct?
Should there be a one sided approach? Do you think English today is a hybrid of the two? WHY?


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