Posts Tagged ‘grammar’

Prescriptivists vs. Descriptivists: the Horror

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

In linguistics and lexicography, there are two approaches: prescription and description. The prescriptivists try to shape the way language evolves, or to prevent it from evolving (a.k.a. strict enforcement of grammar, usage, and mechanics rules); the descriptivists document the evolution.

I feel pretty safe in saying that the descriptivists are operating from a place of tolerance, common sense, and intellectual curiosity, whereas the prescriptivists are grasping at what is essentially a liquid. Language, as is often said, is a living thing, and in the mouths of millions of speakers it is always changing and always will.

And yet. What about those of us who love order? What about the fact that grammar and punctuation contribute to meaning, enhance meaning, and often even make meaning?

Yeah. I’m something of a prescriptivist. And sometimes I can’t help but feel that the descriptivists are standly idly by, witnessing the carnage, without so much as lifting a finger. It’s like, it’s one thing if you’ve turned away from the atrocities. It’s another if you spend your day documeting them.

I like slang, though. And novel coinages. So I’m not all bad.