Prescriptive / descriptive again?

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winklepicker

Senior Member
English (UK)
In another thread, SoundShift said:

I don't believe that weight of numbers turns the incorrect into the correct.
I've been thinking and thinking about this since, and I can't come up with any definition of 'correct' other than 'the usage used by the majority'. This forum is full of examples of things that were once 'correct' and now are not, and the only difference I can see is that majority usage has overwhelmed minority usage.

What do others think?
 
  • Victoria32

    Senior Member
    English (UK) New Zealand
    In another thread, SoundShift said:



    I've been thinking and thinking about this since, and I can't come up with any definition of 'correct' other than 'the usage used by the majority'. This forum is full of examples of things that were once 'correct' and now are not, and the only difference I can see is that majority usage has overwhelmed minority usage.

    What do others think?
    Because I am a pedant born and bred (from a very pedantic mother,) I want to say that I am a prescriptivist, especially as I live in a country which is changing its lexis and pronunciation from BE to AE almost as I listen... but I am also a realist, and so I have to lean towards being a descriptivist.

    Vicky :)
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    In another thread, SoundShift said:

    sound shift said:
    I don't believe that weight of numbers turns the incorrect into the correct.
    I've been thinking and thinking about this since, and I can't come up with any definition of 'correct' other than 'the usage used by the majority'. This forum is full of examples of things that were once 'correct' and now are not, and the only difference I can see is that majority usage has overwhelmed minority usage.

    What do others think?
    Can we have a handful of examples?
    We in Dublin have a dreadful habit of saying "I wooda loven" and "if I hadda havven".

    Vast heards ;) of these ungainly creatures roam the city streets.
    Nothing can make I wooda loven 'correct' - neither the numbers using it, nor even a decree from the English Monarchy (owners in perpetuity of The Queen's English).
    Equally, the use of if I hadda havven is always going to be wrong no matter who it overwhelms.

    I wooda loven = I would have loved
    If I hadda havven = if I had had
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    if I hadda havven".
    People would frown at if I hadda hadden , wouldn't they? They might even be tempted to call it ....incorrect?
    You better / You had better
    Same with, say, You betten get ready soon...

    NB : I deliberately used "variants" that I'm (almsot) sure do not exist anywhere.

    Adopting a descriptive approch doesn't equate saying "anything goes".
    "Incorrect" usages have "rules", recognizable patterns,...
    Otherwise, descriptive linguistics wouldn't be as interesting as they are (to me, at least).

    On the other hand, I'd be very sad if everyone came to forget that you had better is the correct option. But I'm not really able to justify this feeling.
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    English
    People would frown at if I hadda hadden , wouldn't they? They might even be tempted to call it ....incorrect?



    NB : I deliberately used "variants" that I'm (almsot) sure do not exist anywhere.
    Hah - your 'non-existent' hadden is also a commonplace in Dublin.

    If I hadda hadden a gun, I'da shot him!
     

    bassoonery

    Member
    English, born in Japan
    In another thread, SoundShift said:

    I've been thinking and thinking about this since, and I can't come up with any definition of 'correct' other than 'the usage used by the majority'. This forum is full of examples of things that were once 'correct' and now are not, and the only difference I can see is that majority usage has overwhelmed minority usage.

    What do others think?
    I've been brought up to learn Standard English (including a "region-less" accent, decent grammar, consistent spelling, rounded handwriting, well-bred lexis...!) as if it is the only "correct" form of English, but now that I'm studying English Language for A level, we are actually banned from labelling any text as "wrong" or "incorrect". Instead we must call such cases "non-standard" or typical of a particular environment, field or context.

    This was a new apporach to most of us but it seems to be widely accepted. Nevertheless I still cringe at glaring mistakes and see them to be wrong!
     

    roxcyn

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English [AmE]
    It depends on the context, I learn things about the English language every day. As we know langauge is encoded in the DNA so people do not "think" about their native language---it just follows. That is why the language changes. I would only say that I would accept a change if authorities such as Webster accepted them.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    ...and I can't come up with any definition of 'correct' other than 'the usage used by the majority'. This forum is full of examples of things that were once 'correct' and now are not, and the only difference I can see is that majority usage has overwhelmed minority usage.
    Grammarians are only slightly less dismal than economists in their science. The latter, at least since Keynes, have persuaded us that debt can be a good and useful thing, if it both grows and simultaneously diminishes (as a percentage of domestic product). The former have formed their pro, de, and pre cults. As an amateur bystander, I think of an English speaker (writer, if you prefer), as a musician performing a Brahms sonata. The prescriptivists teach the musician how to
    make the instrument do what it is supposed to do, and how to decipher musical notation. The descriptivists allow that rubato can add musicality to an otherwise technically perfect but boring performance. The proscriptivists hate music and will not allow for the possibility of transposing a work to a different key, even if this leads to a much more felicitous performance.

    Lexicographers are a more useful lot. They record what was and what is, and generally define 'correct' as what has been used by a defined majority over an extended period of time.
    Some drag their feet more than others.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I'm not sure I should post on this thread until it has marinaded some more - but I can't resist.

    I have no formal training in English beyond what was typical of Northern Ireland schooling in the 1950s. My use of English and grasp of what makes good English comes from some natural curiousity, a sense of order and consistency and a desire to learn patterns rather than details in order to save brain space (and learning time). Add to that a voracious reading habit, lots and lots of reading aloud, and an enthusiasm for communicating by writing.

    This discussion may polarise into prescriptive versus descriptive. But English has never been prescriptive. English has never been descriptive.

    English is in a continuous state of Darwinian evolution. A key aspect of this evolution is a natural inertia, a resistance to change that is not pedantic or dogmatic but is inherent to a language that has such breadth and depth of use. Part of this resistance to change has been demonstrated by the language's refusal, sorry the refusal of the collective body of English users, to accept the imposition of rules :)

    How English is determined to be right/ wrong, standard/ non-standard, acceptable/ unacceptable, good/ bad .... is much more complicated than prescriptive/ descriptive.​

    Whatever the context, there is an accepted use of language. You bend or break that usage at your peril. In fact, the unwritten laws that determine whether or not the English you use is "good" are much more constraining than those that are written because they are not and cannot be written.


    Native speakers who use the language much more than for everyday interpersonal chat may develop a sensitivity for what is appropriate in a wide range of contexts. It is possible to set some of this usage out as rules. This is not always possible, but to guide learners some generalised guidelines have been established that may be taught as rules.​


    Many of these simplified rules were developed long, long ago, then worked their merry way through an increasingly didactic education system until pedants everywhere insisted that they were the one and only true faith for the English language. BE-speakers are freeing themselves from all the inhibitions that these apparent rules created. But it is still very difficult for non-natives to understand how we can break what appear to be rules with such gay abandon.

    To which I replied once, or possibly twice before, that there is no problem. Follow those rules as guidance until you have been reading and writing English to an acceptable standard for about 25 years. Then you can forget all the rules.


    The art of good English lies in being aware of the words, the way they are put together, and the audience - so that the the total effect is to communicate the message, not something about the messenger (except when that is an implicit part of the message).​

    You have failed to communicate effectively if the audience first thinks "what a pompous ass", or "what an illiterate idiot". That is not good English.​



     
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