LINGUIST List 6.1504

Thu Oct 26 1995

Disc: Prescriptivism

Editor for this issue: Annemarie Valdez <>


  1. Mike MacKenzie, Re: 6.1446, Disc: Prescriptivism
  2. , Disc: Prescriptivism

Message 1: Re: 6.1446, Disc: Prescriptivism

Date: Wed, 25 Oct 1995 23:22:18 Re: 6.1446, Disc: Prescriptivism
From: Mike MacKenzie <>
Subject: Re: 6.1446, Disc: Prescriptivism

On Tue, 17 Oct 1995, (Waruno Mahdi)

> on what you mean by prescription. A language has many dialects, and
> for me, even Melanesian Tok Pisisn ("Talk Pidgin" = Pidgin talk) is
> a dialect

My Tok Pisin teacher (yes, I had one at one time!) said that the name Tok
Pisin means/comes from "business talk". This is certainly plausible
considering it developed largely between groups who had to do business
together but did not share a common language.

Mike MacKenzie
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Disc: Prescriptivism

Date: Thu, 26 Oct 1995 21:34:28 Disc: Prescriptivism
From: <>
Subject: Disc: Prescriptivism

To Linguist(s):

The thread about prescriptivism, and especially Benji Wald's
and Waruno Mahdi's contributions of 17 October, tempt me to
inject 2 quandaries I've been facing (or avoiding) in my
current study of bilingualism. (They also crop up in Intro
courses and I'm not real happy with how I handle them there

We're trying to describe the range of the speech we observe
in Hispanic children in various demographic subgroupings in
Miami. (The bulk of them are from families that originated
in the Caribbean Basin). Since we're working in a school-
based language assessment project, I think we're pretty
justified taking a prescriptivist stance, but I'd like to
avoid being completely retro if possible. It seems so
logical to compare our speakers' behavior with that of
speakers in monolingual contexts. I don't see how else we
will have a reference point to describe say the range of
tenses or expressions of modality, or whatever that the
children make use of? (at least judging from what they
produce in extended discourse.)

But I'm also sympathetic when our bilingual research
assistants protest indignantly--what makes monolinguals'
Spanish "more Spanish" than theirs?

Waruno's posting hinted at a place in the dynamic of
language change for an "out-group," but aside from Silva-
Corvala'n's work on LA Spanish and some work by John Lipski,
I don't know of too much else in the way of specific
references in this area.

Then, too, I'm troubled by a notion that "having more
distinctions" is generally better. I'm sure I don't have
enough math understanding to appreciate it fully, but I have
this sense of an equilibrium between a pressure for more
"ready-made" distinctions (lexical items and grammaticalized
units of information) and a pressure for economy in the
number of distinct units (that need learning). If you have
more ready-made units, you spend less mental energy creating
and understanding compounds or vice versa. And I have this
faith in the mathematical properties of things that all
languages probably hover around some idealized intersection
of the two pressures, some higher on one or the other side
of the equation, but both essentially paying the same piper
the same amount. (Is this Zipf? or Talmy? or something I
inherited from my AI teacher?)

IF anything like this obtains, what can we make of having
"fewer distinctions" in one's dialect, but that there's
greater computational effort somewhere else in that system--
*OR* less information communicated (which plops us back into
"restricted versus elaborated codes" of the bad old days).

All of this is well beyond the scope of our work, but not of
its underpinnings, so I'm interested both in references to
experts and in the opinions of other educated amateurs as
well--on one or the other of these ideas.

Thanks in advance. (Will post a summary, if response
warrants it.)

Barbara Pearson
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue