Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Prescriptive Grammar versus Descriptive Grammar

In a post a few weeks back I mentioned prescriptive grammar without really explaining what it is and for that reason I thought I would delve a bit further into the concept of prescriptive grammar - which also requires a knowledge of the concept of descriptive grammar. Both prescriptive and descriptive grammar are approaches to studying grammar and its usage.

Prescriptive grammar is what we are taught in school. Prescriptive grammar follows strict rules that can not be broken. Additionally, in prescriptive grammar there is always a right way and a wrong way. Descriptive grammar, on the other hand, simply describes grammar the way it is used every day by people. There are no set rules. There is no right or wrong.

In sum, the term prescriptive is used to tell how language should be and the term descriptive tells how language is. Grammar is not the only concept in linguistics that can be prescribed or described; spelling and phonetics can as well, for example, yesterday's post with the Hickphonics/English Dictionary was a descriptive account of the grammar and pronunciations of a particular dialect.

I have studied linguistics from both prescriptive and descriptive points of view. I know what the prescriptive rules are but I do not consider myself a strict prescriptivist. I far prefer studying language in its everyday use and I do not believe there are rights or wrongs, only variations that occur for regular, explainable reasons.

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