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- is the attitude or belief that one variety of language is superior to others and should be promoted as
such. An attitude to language use that makes judgments about what is right and wrong and holds
language up to an ideal standard that should be maintained. Prescriptivism prescribes the best and
accurate usage of grammar.

Prescriptivism emphasizes:

- the rules of correct proper usage of grammar.

- dictates the good and bad grammar

- control and regulate language use

Common example of prescriptive text

- style and usage guides, dictionaries, writing handbooks, and the like.


- an ardent promoter of Prescriptivism. Informally known as a STICKLER. Is the attitude of policing the
correct use of a language and scolding or correcting if usage is incorrect or illogical. A prescriptive
approach is one that expresses certain dissatisfaction with the language use in general and even the
language of such speakers. Those who take this approach believe that no one can be trusted to use the
language “correctly”. This approach “prescribes” how a language should be used. Therefore, it tries to
implement some rules in using the language.

Robert Lane Green’s second prescriptivist category denotes in relation to linguistics see language in an
irreversible decline.

Lynne Truss: famous prescriptivist aka stickler went correcting grammar use in grocers such as the
inappropriate apostrophes e.g. ‘Potateo’s’.

Modern common stickerlists: pervade every corner on the internet correct people’s misuse of grammar
such as the common ‘your and you’re’ or ‘they’re and there.’


- 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.

- Actively tries to define language rules

- Can say if a part of speech is wrong
- Attempts to standardize language
- Less concerned with real – world usage
- Formal

Prescriptive grammarians are judgmental and attempt to change linguistic behavior of a particular sort
and in a particular direction. Linguists--or mental grammarians, on the other hand, seek to explain the
knowledge of language that guides people's everyday use of language regardless of their
schooling."taught in schools and exercises a range of social effects

 The Rise of Prescriptive Grammar in the 18th Century:

"To many people in the middle decades of the eighteenth century, the language was indeed
seriously unwell. It was suffering from a raging disease of uncontrolled usage. . . .
"There was an urgency surrounding the notion of a standard language, in the eighteenth
century. People needed to know who they were talking to. Snap judgments were everything,
when it came to social position. And things are not much different today. We make immediate
judgments based on how people dress, how they do their hair, decorate their bodies--and how
they speak and write. It is the first bit of discourse that counts.
"The prescriptive grammarians went out of their way to invent as many rules as possible which
might distinguish polite from impolite speech. They didn't find very many--just a few dozen, a
tiny number compared with all the thousands of rules of grammar that operate in English. But
these rules were propounded with maximum authority and severity, and given plausibility by
the claim that they were going to help people to be clear and precise. As a result, generations of
schoolchildren would be taught them, and confused by them." (David Crystal, The Fight for
English. Oxford University Press, 2006)

• 18th century - the age of prescriptivism. The main fears were: the speed of change, the lack of official
control over change, and writers’ disregard for grammar and spelling.

• 20th & 21st centuries – greater informalization, fewer distinctions made between spoken and written,
non-standard forms of English are valued (eye dialect or text language), debates have centred on
society’s attitudes towards language used about specific groups, hence the notion of using politically
correct speech.

Emerging standardization

• a gradual process over centuries - enabled by printing technology and establishing of a particular
dialect for printed texts - assisted by the crucial changes to English grammar, lexis, punctuations and
phonology occurring in Early Modern English during Renaissance.

• It was in the 18th Century that standardization was firmly more established. The grammarians of the
18th Century left a more lasting effect on English, and their work has resulted in many of the “rules” you
apply when you use written Standard English.

Standardization happened gradually as the result of some key factors:

• Printing allowed conventions of spelling and punctuation to evolve and, as many argue, gave southern
dialects supremacy in creating Standard English.

• People’s desire to stabilize, fix and codify the language and became stronger and resulted in grammar
books and dictionaries that recorded rules for written English.

Throughout English attitudes have changed with regard to your key social contexts of power, gender and
technology. E.g. issues of political correctness might be evident in contemporary texts discussing gender.

Examples of prescriptive grammar rules:

- Don’t use a double negative. (“ I didn’t go nowhere”)

- Don’t end a sentence in a preposition. (“Who did you give the candy bar to?”)

- Don’t split infinitives. (“…to boldy go where no one has gone before.”)

Ok: to go boldly. Supposedly bad: to boldly go – Why? Latin infinitives are one word: e.g. amare ‘to love’.
This couldn’t be split by another word.

- Don’t use ‘like’ like this (“So I was, like, ‘Calm down, man; you’re getting all agitated”.)

- Say “Betty and I went to the picnic,” not “Betty and me went to the picnic.”


1. She doesn’t know him.

2. She don’t know him.

Example (1) is supposed to be “good”, while (2) is supposed to be “bad” WHY?: The basic problem with
She don’t know him: it is not part of standard English. But it is part of some varieties/dialects of English

A. Sometimes these rules are archaic rules leftover from earlier in the history of the language. These
rules have been abandoned by most in the language community, but persist in use by a select few. For

The proper use of “who”:

1. *Who did you arrest?

2. Whom did you arrest?

Many will claim that only the sentence in (2) is grammatically correct. This belief derives from an older
version of English in which the nominative and accusative cases (subject and object respectively) were
more important. Today these cases only persist in pronouns, and even there they are slowly dying off.
B. Another common prescriptive rule is by analogy with some other language, usually one with prestige.
Historically, this has occurred in English with Classical Latin quite commonly.

Ending a sentence with a preposition:

1. *What are you waiting for?

2. For what are you waiting?

Although this rule is less rigorously applied today, in the past many have claimed that you should not
end a sentence with a preposition, such as in (1) above. This rule never existed in the English language—
instead, it was taken via analogy from Classical Latin, which, for morphological reasons that I won’t go
into here, could not really end sentences with prepositions.

C. Hyper-correction. These rules come about when a feature from another language is borrowed and
over-applied. For example, this commonly happens in English when a plural feature is borrowed from
another language such as in the Greek word “octopus”:

1. *I saw several octopuses at the beach.

2. I saw several octopi at the beach.

These rules thankfully don’t usually have a long life, even among prescriptive grammarians. This rule, for
instance, has been all but eradicated—it is now generally accepted that the correct plural in Greek
would indeed be the same as the English productive plural, “octopuses” (I do not speak Greek,
admittedly, but this is what I have heard).

D. Descriptive grammar, however, consists of rules that all speakers of a speech community adhere to,
barring speech errors. These are the rules that Linguists are usually more interested in, as they are
reflective of the properties of actual language, not ideal language. When these rules are violated, there
is usually a clearer intuition that something bad has happened. For example,

a typical case of reflexive pronouns:

1. *I saw me in the mirror, and I looked good.

2. I saw myself in the mirror, and I looked good.

Mind you, there could be some speech communities that find (1) grammatical, but generally speaking,
English speakers would not utter (1) purposefully. There is an observable rule in English that requires
reflexive pronouns to be pronounced as an anaphor, rather than as a standard object pronoun.

1. *I looked for hospital.

2. I looked for a/the hospital.

English typically requires a determiner/article before a common noun.

1. *Me went to the beach.

2. I went to the beach.

As I mentioned earlier, case is still active for pronouns. You have to use the proper pronoun depending
on whether the position is a subject or an object (at least for the first person singular pronoun).

1. *She liked to shot birds.

2. She liked to shoot birds.

Embedded infinitival clauses can’t display overt tense, which in this case rules out (1), since “shot” is the
past tense form of the bare verb “shoot.”

• approach to language that focuses on how it is actually spoken and written. aims to
understand the ways people use languange in the world, given all the forces that
influence such use.

- promoter of descriptivism. Describes and analyze the endlessly changing ways people
speak and write.


- observing and analyzing

- not making correction

- focuses on language

- modify language

 If I ain't got you

 I didn't see nobody

 I gotcha always!

 I will miss ya'll

 Jane said that.. Tom told her Susan said that...

Language Equality
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the notion was widespread that some languages—
generally presumed to be those of peoples with a primitive physical culture—either lacked a
grammar completely, or had a very simple grammar. Versions of this story persist today,
claiming that there is some tribe in a remote region of the world—the depths of the Amazon, or
the highlands of New Guinea—who have a language of only a hundred words and no grammar.
This myth was exploded once linguists began to study these languages and discovered that they
had grammatical systems every bit as regular and elaborate as any language of a culture with a
civilization stretching back thousands of years. Although the grammatical structures of some
languages are very different from those of English, every language has a grammar.
What is true of languages also holds true of dialects within a language. Occasionally, you may hear it said that
some dialect, such as African American Vernacular English (AAVE) or Puerto Rican Spanish is
ungrammatical or deficient. In truth, though, these dialects follow internally consistent rules. That is, they have
their own consistent grammatical systems, but ones that differ from the grammars of other speakers of English
or Spanish.

Sometimes, it is claimed that some thoughts cannot be expressed in a particular language or contrarily that an
idea can only be uttered in one language. If true, that would presumably make some languages better than
others. But such claims turn out to be hard to substantiate. What does it mean to say that a concept cannot be
expressed in a language? Often, people seem to mean that one language has a particular word for a concept
that another language lacks. For example, German has the term schadenfreude, which means "taking pleasure
in the misfortune of others." Some English speakers borrow this word when they want to express the idea.
Does that mean that we can't express the idea in English? The very act of explaining what the word means
demonstrates that it is possible to express the idea. True, it may not be always possible to translate an idea
word-for-word, but paraphrase and other techniques will get the job done. Languages are flexible enough to
adapt and expand to the needs of speakers. And if speakers of a language need a particular concept often
enough, they will create a word to express it, either by relying on native word-creation processes or by
borrowing the term from another language. Indeed, enough English speakers have found schadenfreude to be a
useful term that it can now be found in the larger English dictionaries, although it still has the feel of a foreign
word. Over three quarters of the words in Modern English, particularly the more learned terms, are borrowed
from other languages.

Other arguments for the intrinsic superiority of one language over another make equally little sense. Language
is fundamentally an arbitrary convention. There is no principled reason why the animal that English speakers
label dog must be identified with that particular string of sounds. Speakers of other languages get along just
fine with entirely different strings of sound: chien in French, perro in Spanish, gae in Korean, naayi in
Tamil,[1] and so on. It would be unreasonable to say that one of these words was a more logical fit for the

Similarly, we would laugh if someone asked us which is better, to put your adjectives before your nouns (as
English does) or to put them after (as does Spanish). The question is fatuous. The order that each language
follows is simply a convention that must be followed if we wish to be understood in that language. Evaluations
of better or worse don't enter into the picture.

What holds for individual words and rules of a language holds for the whole collection of words and rules that
constitute the language: there is no linguistic basis for declaring one language better than another. For the same
reasons, it's impossible to find objective reasons to declare a particular dialect of a language superior to another
dialect. This equality of dialects is important to stress because traditional grammar typically values one dialect
as proper and denigrates others as inferior corruptions. Labels like "substandard English," which are
sometimes used in older works to label certain dialects of English, reflect such attitudes. In this view, correct
grammar is an elite property of a few "correct" speakers. When traditional grammarians appeal to usage in
order to justify their rules, they do not invoke the general usage of most people. They select a handful of
prestigious writers as their models. Linguists try not to privilege the language of one group over another just
because that group has the prestige in society. That distinction is social, not linguistic.

Most linguists do accept the practical usefulness of having a standard form, especially in writing, and virtually
all conform to the traditional notions of standard English in their professional work. But one can adopt a
standard as an arbitrary convenience without bringing along with it elitist assumptions that using it makes you
better than those who do not. Rather than conceiving of prescriptive violations as "errors" or "wrong", many
linguists speak of sentences as being acceptable or unacceptable. Teachers, for example, will often tell students
"ain't is not a word." In a linguistic sense, of course, ain't certainly is a word. Among many groups, however,
particularly those with power, it is not a socially acceptable one. That is, a linguist would find a sentence such

(8) #They ain't coming.

to be perfectly grammatical, but unacceptable in many contexts, such as formal writing, a job interview, etc.