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Monday, November 18, 2013

Prescriptivism v. Descriptivism: repressive grammar is a thing

I like to debate until I’m blue in the face because I like to see how high I can get my blood pressure to spike in a ten minute time span. However, I also like to learn things.

I would not be writing this if I had not learned something new debating today.

The debate started because I’m a pain in the ass about utilizing “formal” writing. Good v. well, contractions v. spelled out, etc. You get the picture.

Likely, this is because language is one of the things I’m good at. I’m a Francophile, a lit nerd, and I’ve had syntactical and grammatical jargon crammed into my head since I was able to form simple sentences.

Consequently, I pride myself on my mad skillz. And I tend to vehemently defend the things I’m good at.

The debate I had today was about whether or not there should be rules for grammar and syntax that must be followed by all writers in order to structure and create uniformity within the English language.

I was arguing that there should be one structure and set of rules everyone follows. Fellow blogger T.X. Watson was arguing the contrary. (

A term was introduced to me early on in the debate: prescriptivism. Prescriptivism is the sect, if you will, of linguists and linguistics lovers who believe English has to be a certain way and that everyone should use it in that way, otherwise they are not speaking proper English.

The counterpart to prescriptivism is descriptivism.

Descriptivism believes that there is no one proper set of rules to dictate how English should be used (dictate, get it, haha).

The way my brain processed this is: if the style in which a person is speaking or writing makes sense and is comprehendible, why would you be a jerk and restrict it to your own expectations?

I do that all the time. I mean, I don’t correct strangers or anything; that would be mean. But I do get into it with all of my friends. We make a conscious effort to correct our texts and conversations with one another. It’s playful teasing. And I will continue to do this until the end of time.

However, in a larger cultural context, I can now understand why descriptivism would be better than prescriptivism. The truth is in the root.

Descript: meant to describe.

Prescript: Given from one person (presumably and expert) to another person, to make something that was wrong, “better”.

Summarily, why would we work to create one system that everyone had to learn and conform to despite cultural and geographical differences that should and do influence language to be diverse instead of just working to accept and cherish the differences and understand one another?

Yes, yes, I got a little bit mushy at the end there, but it’s a very good point. To be honest, I’d never thought about the ethical considerations regarding language conformity. I always found it silly when others criticized non-English speakers in America (considering the one criticizer obviously does not know the native tongue of the criticizee [not a word] either). However, I never thought that “proper” English had the potential to be repressive either, until today.

I don’t think I’ve ever put quotation marks around the word proper in regards to English either.

I should go way more in depth, but I’m sick and just took NyQuil  So here’s a link:

I'll post more on this later.

Bean out.

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