LINGUIST List 6.1515

Fri Oct 27 1995

Disc: Prescriptivism

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Alexis Manaster Ramer, Re: 6.1504, Disc: Prescriptivism
  2. Marjory Hord Borden, Re: 6.1470, Disc: Prescriptivism
  3. "R. Hoberman", Prescriptivism and the role of linguists

Message 1: Re: 6.1504, Disc: Prescriptivism

Date: Fri, 27 Oct 1995 09:37:22 Re: 6.1504, Disc: Prescriptivism
From: Alexis Manaster Ramer <amrCS.Wayne.EDU>
Subject: Re: 6.1504, Disc: Prescriptivism

Barbara Pearson raises an interesting question when she asks whether
"having more distinctions" is always "better". The idea that one of
the things "wrong" with "incorrect"/"nonstandard" usage is that it
makes fewer distinctions is one of the claims of traditional
prescriptivist dogma, and it is used to condemn the neutralization of
the _lay_/_lie_ contrast for instance as well as a number of other
cases where "standard" English has more distinctions than most other
varieties. However, like all the other facets of prescriptivist
dogma, this is one is utterly false in general, since there are
zillions of distinctions made in oneor another variety of
"nonstandard" English, which the prescriptivists do not adopt, e.g.,
the contrast between _wanna_ and _want to_. nd the same is the case
in other languages as well: in those languages where there is a
"standard" pronunciation, for example, it is by no means uncommon for
some or even all "nonstandard" dialects to have distinctions absent
from the "standard".

Alexis Manaster Ramer
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Message 2: Re: 6.1470, Disc: Prescriptivism

Date: Tue, 24 Oct 1995 11:03:36 Re: 6.1470, Disc: Prescriptivism
From: Marjory Hord Borden <>
Subject: Re: 6.1470, Disc: Prescriptivism

One anecdote from Mexico- my husband recalls two lower-class people
speaking Spanish, and one correcting the other, "Don't say ANSINA, say
ASINA"- for what in middle-class SPanish is ASI. The other forms come
from an older form of Spanish, but it's funny how one person corrected
another whom she considered a little lower on the scale of linguistic
propriety. (Both forms are considered sub-standard by middle-class)
Margarita Hordn
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Message 3: Prescriptivism and the role of linguists

Date: Wed, 25 Oct 1995 11:58:45 Prescriptivism and the role of linguists
From: "R. Hoberman" <>
Subject: Prescriptivism and the role of linguists

I learned the following analogy from someone, probably on LINGUIST,
within the last year or two. A linguist is to language(s) as a
botanist is to plants, and not as a gardener. The botanist's work,
qua scientist, is to find out new and interesting and perhaps useful
things about plants. A botanist may also be a gardener -- I bet a lot
of them are -- and in that case s/he probably has some personal
favorites, and ideas as to which ones go nicely together, and which
ones other people think are appropriate for bringing into the house
and which ones should stay outdoors, etc. There's no reason why the
same individual can't be both a gardener and a botanist, and being a
gardener does not impeach one's scientific credentials as a botanist.

As a linguist, I believe that all natural languages are created equal,
and that usage is a social construction. As a participant in American
culture, some innovations and some prescriptivisms rub me the wrong
way (e.g. "an historical", "presently" meaning 'now'). The latter
does not wreck my scientific impartiality, nor should the former
prevent me from recognizing by someone's speech certain probable (!)
features of their social background, education, and loyalties.

Bob Hoberman
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