LINGUIST List 6.1432

Mon Oct 16 1995

Disc: Prescriptivism

Editor for this issue: Anthony M. Aristar <>


  1. Jacques Guy, Prescriptivism (was: creeping reflexives)

Message 1: Prescriptivism (was: creeping reflexives)

Date: Mon, 16 Oct 1995 09:05:29 Prescriptivism (was: creeping reflexives)
From: Jacques Guy <j.guytrl.OZ.AU>
Subject: Prescriptivism (was: creeping reflexives)

Alexis Manaster Ramer:

 "it surely is not correct to assume that "Real Linguists" are not
 prescriptivists. For many if not most of the world's written
 languages, the folks who are writing prescriptive grammars and
 dictionaries are in fact linguists...

 It is I think correct to say that the opposition to prescriptivism
 in language originated with some linguists around the turn of the
 century, but I do not think it is true that all or even most
 linguists ever adopted this stance... While much of the
 prescriptivist "theory" is drivel"

I am no longer sure that it is drivel, since I found in a second-hand
shop a book on French grammar and expressions by the died-in-the-wool
prescriptivist, Grevisse. I had never read any of his works before. In
this book, every time on every bone of contention, he refers to usage,
frequency of usage, and the historical evolution of usage, and draws his
prescriptions from there. Perhaps prescriptivism has been
misrepresented. Take an old-style Latin grammar. The last thing a
student of Latin would want is to be confronted with questions of usage,
from Cicero to Aquinas: they are matters for experts. The discussion of
usage was then mercifully omitted from my high school Latin grammar,
which was dryly prescriptivist. On the other hand, I have an old Latin
grammar at home, bought much later, which goes deep into usage and its
variations in time and across authors. Which makes me wonder: is
prescriptivism a straw man?
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