LINGUIST List 9.151

Sat Jan 31 1998

Disc: Penultimate Posting: Presciptivism

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <>


  1. Mark Mandel, disc: prescriptivism

Message 1: disc: prescriptivism

Date: Wed, 07 Jan 1998 11:18:14 -0500
From: Mark Mandel <>
Subject: disc: prescriptivism

Stirling Newberry takes sarcastic offense at Karl Teeter's expression
of the difficulty he encountered in reading SN's post. That post
included the following:

 The reasons linguistics avers persdcriptivism, is that
 prescription is the cujnction of the dat top day activities of
 language itself,...

KT had remarked:

 I wondered for a moment if I were back teaching freshman
 English! This particular collocation may be the silliest I have yet
 noted in this context, [...]

SN's reply is:

	Well I suppose if typing is the holy of holies in the subject of
	inquiry - then I fail. The sentence above should read:

	 The reason that Linuistic avers prescriptivisim is that this is the
	 function of the day to day activities of language itself.

	In this long running conversation we really have a collision of two
	very important principles. On the one hand clarity of writing, on
	the ohter hand the need for clear observation.

	Anyway - I look forward to Mr. Teeter's forth coming paper on
	how good typing is vastly more important than good thinking for
	the advancement of lingusitic science.

I don't want to become part of a flame war. But I must admit that my
initial reaction to SN's sentence in question was very much like KT's:
"What the hell is this?" I could not determine whether

 1. SN's spelling and/or typing were simply as bad as they seemed.
 2. SN was intentionally producing garbage, presumably with some
satirical intent.
 3. SN's message was a victim of the kind of garbling that is all too
common a mishap in cyberspace.
... and, in cases 1 or 3 (and possibly 2), what the sentence was
supposed to be.

Communication always requires some give-and-take, some allowance for
misunderstanding and difference between the parties. This, I guess, is
what SN means here by "the need for clear observation". But clarity of
writing, down to the surface level* of typing one's words onto paper
or byte-stream, is necessary too, and (IMHO) SN needs to pay more
attention to his own obligations as sender.

Prescriptivism? Consider this an object lesson in the usefulness of
shared standards and the risks to communication, both linguistic
("What is SN saying?") and paralinguistic ("Is SN being satirical?"),
when a communicative event strays too far from the common ground.

* call the Metaphor Police! ;-)\

 Mark A. Mandel : Senior Linguist : mark (at) 
 Dragon Systems, Inc. : speech recognition : +1 617 965-5200 
 320 Nevada St., Newton, MA 02160, USA :
 Personal home page:
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