LINGUIST List 7.341

Mon Mar 4 1996

Sum: Prescriptivism

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1., Prescriptivism query, summary of responses

Message 1: Prescriptivism query, summary of responses

Date: Sun, 03 Mar 1996 19:38:36 EST
From: <>
Subject: Prescriptivism query, summary of responses

Back on October 26, I posed two questions under the rubric of the
"prescriptivist" thread (Linguist 6.1446 among others). With
apologies for the length of time it took, here is my summary,

First my question:

Part 1 questioned the "notion that having more distinctions [in a
dialect] is generally better" (alluding to a "restricted" vs
"elaborated" code). I asked about the source of the idea that there's
an an equilibrium between a pressure for "ready-made distinctions"
(lexical items and grammaticalized units of information) and a
pressure for economy in the number of distinct units that need
learning. That is, if you have more ready-made units, you spend less
mental energy creating and understanding compounds or vice versa.

Thanks to
Roy Dace <> (Michael Newman) and
Larry Horn <LHORNYaleVM.CIS.Yale.Edu>
 for their answers.

Dace said the idea of a balance between simplification and
"complexification" felt "older than Zipf," and that he had encountered
it in several distinct domains in his freshman linguistics course.
Newman wondered how such processes would be "demonstrable empirically
since they inherently involve value judgments."

Horn said he felt it was "essentially Zipf" but more clearly
enunciated in Martinet and Haiman and in an article by him on a "more
general functionalist dialectic." Indeed I got Haiman's very
interesting book, *Natural Syntax*, CUP, 1985 from the library, and I
see in it many different articulations of the concept. He attributes
it (with varying degrees of agreement) to Saussure, Zipf, and
"distinguished predecessors in the functionalist tradition, among them
Henri Frei (1929) and Wilhelm Havers (1931)" (p. 18) In line with
them, Haiman argues that "the tendencies to maximize iconicity and to
maximize economy are two of the most important competing motivations
for linguistic forms in general" (p. 18). Again in the introduction
to part 2 of the book (p. 158), he states that he "[will present]
evidence for the contention that there is an inverse correlation
between the lexicon (=diacritics) and the grammar (=the diagrams) of a
language: the greater the lexicon, the greater the opacity; the
smaller the lexicon, the greater the transparency and iconicity of the
linguistic (sub)system."

Question 2:

My second question concerned what makes monolinguals' Spanish "more
Spanish" than bilinguals'. This must be too self-evident to provoke
reaction. I got only two responses. Robert Port <>
or <> wrote to warn me to avoid bilinguals if I were
doing cross- linguistic study. At least in phonology, he said,
there's plenty of research to show that bilinguals are different from

I also got the following very helpful list of references
from Benji Wald <IBENAWJMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU> and many
different lines of thought to follow up.

Benji Wald (1984) The status of Chicano English as a dialect
of American English. In J.Ornstein-Galicia, ed. Form and
function in Chicano English. 14-31. Rowley, Mass: Newbury

- - (1987) Spanish-English grammatical contact in Los
Angeles: The grammar of reported speech in the East Los
Angeles contact vernacular. N. Dittmar, ed. Variation and
Discourse. Special Issue of Linguistics. 25-1:53-80.

- - (1988) Implications of research on Mexican American
Spanish for linguistic theory. J. Ornstein-Galicia, G.K.
Green & D.J. Bixler-Marquez, eds. Research Issues and
Problems in United States Spanish. 57-75. Brownsville: Pan
American University.

- - (1991) On the evolution of Would and other modals in
the English spoken in East Los Angeles. In N. Dittmar & A.
Reich, eds. Modality in Language Acquisition/Modalite et
acquisition des langues 59-96. Berlin: de Gruyter.

- - (1987) The development of writing skills among Hispanic
high school students. In S.Goldman & H. Trueba, eds.
Becoming literate in a second language. 155-186. Norwood,New
Jersey: Ablex Co.

Thank you, Linguist, for pointing me in these directions. I'm still
interested in actual quantifications of simplification and complexity,
if anyone has been that brave. And I'm setting out on the question of
distinguishing stable bilingualism from 2nd language learning. But I
may have to make a whole new query for that.

I hope I have not misrepresented any of the replies. If I have, I
trust I will be set straight.

Barbara Zurer Pearson <>
Bilingualism Study Group
University of Miami, Dept. of English
Box 248145
Coral Gables, FL 33124
305-284-3906/ 305-284-5635 (fax)
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