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Talk:Linguistic prescription

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Contents

all about clarity of communicationEdit

This is the single most massive Talk discussion I have encountered. More dismaying, it is erudite and informed, to the point I find it more interesting than the main article. Still, the article is problematic, and that's why I'm Discussing. Most specifically, I have to take on the way that "prescription" is painted as a means to oppression and thought-control, and how perpetual pursuit of this threat (largely imaginary) gets in the way of crafting a reasonable article.

the articleEdit

Begin with the fundamentals: the article title. Isn't Wikipedia largely an example of "prescription"? (So, of course, any reference work, and moreso back when shared references had to be printed on paper.) How can someone determine whether any given reference source is reliable or even useful?

On to the abstract. Should there be some multiplication of terms, say prescription vs. prescriptivism, the action against the belief? Potentially clarifying, or further muddying?

Specifically, this article ought be focused on the NORMATIVE PRACTICES, as is stated at the beginning. All distaff elements should be briefly glossed, and shipped off to other articles -- to name a few: political correctness, hate speech, defamation, trolling.

In my lay opinion, the purpose of having a common center of verbiage and usage is most assuredly NOT to "lock down" the language, but to ensure that there is a sort of "floating island" of commonality, which does shift slowly over time, and from which users are free to diverge but always free to return to that calm center. None of us is in any way prevented from being Humpty Dumpty and expecting that every word can mean whatever we choose, but any two people who feel a need to actually communicate will quickly find some way of setting that petty Individualism nonsense aside.

"authority" & SpanglishEdit

Under Authority, there is not enough emphasis on the cited "prescriptive bodies" as not having some sort of police powers to enforce their concretized findings. It's my impression (at least) that such bodies wield only the authority they are implicitly granted by people who desire clarity; if they have feet of clay in a shifting world, they quickly evaporate.

Uncritical imposition of that list shapes the thinking of those who refer to this article. For instance, glancing at the "Spanish" entry, there's the claim that one group somehow establishes "standard Spanish in 21 countries" which I'm moderately certain is nonsense. Does anyone else remember Mitt Romney's on-air gaffe in 2012? Ask for a "papaya" in any Dade County (Florida) neighborhood, and you may get slapped, or worse -- it's the common Cuban term for female genitalia. You'd order fruta bomba. Various Spanish-speaking countries, regions, and dialects have those quirks, and the concept "standard Spanish" takeson water.

My recollection is that the Real Academia has publicly decried the "dilution" of the Spanish language, particularly the accretion of loanwords rather than adherence to "proper" language -- e.g., demanding use of "baloncesto" (basketball) or "ordenador" (computer). Technology and communication are expanding much faster than any "language standardization committee" could possibly keep up with.

No contrasting mention is made of the collection and study of Spanglish verbiage and grammar. As with much (most?) English spoken in the United States, Spanglish is common usage (which some will therefore damn as vulgar). But there are plenty of examples of de facto "standard" Spanglish (as opposed to de jure), and the dialect has received much scholarly attention, so oughtn't some authority be cited? Back around 2000 there was a Texas university with a program observing the dialect, and certainly that'd help balance the efforts of Real Academia.

Obviously you don't understand how the Real Academia works. They like to pretend that their mission is to avoid foreign influences in Spanish, but their true role has always been to put the mark of incorrection on many common uses of Spanish speakers, and then they manage to cajole most of the population into believing that the Academia's style choices are based on science and are therefore beyond any subjectivity. Because English speakers don't have to deal with anything like that, they fail to grasp what's going on in other languages, and particularly in Spanish. --Jotamar (talk) 17:19, 10 April 2017 (UTC)

actual examples of prescriptionEdit

I find no discussion of attempts at standardization of "simple" (or "simplified") versions of a language -- which oversight is bizarre considering the proximity of the Simple English Wikipedia -- but even the obviousness of Ogden's Basic English is ignored, let alone Special English. Is this a result of mere ignorance, or yet another anti-PC witchhunt? (Is there a third possible answer?)

I must agree with a previous statement that routing grammar Nazi here makes no sense. Use of the term, as with calling something "politically correct," is assuredly NOT a "criticism" (which kinda implies logical discourse) but at best a counterattack, a fnord used to silence an uncomfortable opinion. The Criticisms section in general is larded with weasel words that aren't attributed, therefore original research.

momentary codaEdit

IMO, prescriptivism only becomes "wrong" when it's a means (or perhaps a justification) to impose prejudices upon observation. In that sense (alone?) it is anti-scientific. Yet, how are we to explore without using the tools we have at hand, however primitive? To do otherwise, to fall into a sort of analysis paralysis and halt all attempts at observation until the perfect tools magically appear, is fundamentally anti-science.

"In the past, prescription was used consciously as a political tool." Thank heavens we're so much more enlightened nowadays, eh? Such a conclusive statement seems to deny further discussion; unsurprisingly, it's unattributed.

As Doric Loon so aptly said, "the anti-prescriptivist crusade...is a way of avoiding the complexity of questions which have no simple answer."
Weeb Dingle (talk) 21:28, 9 April 2017 (UTC)

I moderated the article's "political" material that you quoted (and what followed it) a bit. I'm not sure the cognitive dissonance problem you're identifying is real – here or in linguistics. No actual linguists seem to be suffering from it. They know that their job is to describe actual usage, and to describe differences in usage. Doing the latter well automatically identifies what the socially "preferred" usage is, and does it better than a style guide, by doing it within different registers, communities, and regions of usage.

The people actually suffering brain meltdowns appear to only be actual style guide authors, and only some of them. The latest editions of both Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage and New Hart's Rules, under new editorship right around the same time, both show concrete evidence of this problem. They are written by non-linguists and attempting to integrate some attempt at linguistic description, but clumsily and piecemeal. They are the ones availing themselves of "a way of avoiding the complexity of questions which have no simple answer", and doing so very literally. The results are that they often actually fail as style guides and conclude (impractically) that there really is no advice to offer and that people should do whatever they want. In a few places, each work (the two major UK style guides) directly contradicts itself, and they both frequently contradict each other, yet while also citing each other as authorities. (I predict that if either work gets a new edition at all that these issues will be rectified, but people are already turning back to the previous editions which did not suffer these problems.)

They've arrived at this mess because they're failing to do the second half of the analysis. They are not recognizing the distinctions between "high academic" writing, the fairly academic writing of non-fiction books for the general public, news journalism writing, technical writing, less-formal-than-news entertainment industry writing, marketing and business communication, and other registers/genres. Where the editors of these works misperceive a swirl of total chaos, there are actually multiple but fairly tight systems of usage that conflict with each other but not very much within each one. In the end, this not a problem with descriptivism at all, it's a problem of poor research and editing, and of misapplication of descriptivism, or an application of "descriptivism misunderstood", however you like to look at it. The very purpose of a style guide is to be prescriptivist, within limits, with good reasons (clarity being the main one), and cognizant of different styles for different audiences (or different communicative purposes). Where a style guide fails to do this, it is not a style guide and has wandered off into some kind of confused rumination.

Things can go too far the other direction, though. The Chicago Manual of Style is notoriously "preservative" of obsolescent usage, and of fudging or avoiding observable usage facts (about professional publishing, not slang) in order to maintain a "rule" that its editors just lurrrve but which is out of step with where the world is going. Several house style guides also suffer this problem (e.g. that of The New York Times). Meanwhile, while several others (mostly British journalism ones) have the related almost opposite-looking problem of serving as advocates of language change (that they're in a position to try to force by publishing under their own pseudo-norms) that do not match general-public or higher-register publishing either. This is kind of a "prescriptivism for the sake of inventing a style" thing, the details of which are observably motivated by two factors: desire for maximum compression even at the expense of clarity, and desire to be different, as a branding mechanism.

Another problem in many of these works as a class is making nationalistic assertions about "American English" and "British English" that no linguist would actually agree with, because they're actually observations of norms of particular publishing spheres, not dialects, and they only happen to sometimes loosely follow geographic distributions, which are rapidly breaking down (with the Internet, with, e.g., Oxford University Press selling an order of magnitude more books in the US than in the UK, and many other factors). But falsely nationalizing sells more books, so some of them, including Hart's, Chicago, and Garner's, among others, keep doing it.
 — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  06:25, 20 July 2017 (UTC)

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Cross-language effects (draft)Edit

Right after the material on government bureaucracy, and the historical example of Ptolemaic Egypt, is an ideal place to insert something along these lines:

Cross-language effects

Action by nation-states and their precursors, and by religious institutions (when these have been distinct from governments) has often had a prescriptive effect that transcends linguistic barriers, to impose the language or writing system of the dominant group on subordinate ones. The Roman Empire's spread of Latin, even before the Christian period, served a similar function to Ancient Egypt's linguistic preservative tradition, but went further, and over time caused the extinction of many other languages (though the empire's dissolution, and thus the loss of a centralized authority, later gave rise to the distinct Romance languages from Latin). Genghis Khan, in the late 11th through early 12th centuries, similarly and vigorously pursued a standardized written language across multiple spoken languages throughout the Mongol Empire, an effort that was integral to maintaining power across such a wide area. The European powers of the colonial era similarly spread English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, and Portuguese across their maritime empires, while Russia and the later Soviet Union imposed Russian from Eastern Europe to its holdings in northeastern Asia, driving many native Asian languages extinct. The Indian schools system in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries had the same effect on many then-surviving Native American languages.

Well into the 20th century, a particular type of prescriptivism – in favor of a common writing system as "better" or destined for universality – has attempted, often successfully, to impose a transcription system (most often Romanization) on native speakers of another language with a different form of writing. This most often happens in circumstances in which native literacy is low, a colonial relationship (or its vestiges) exists between the imposers of the change and the native population, and a colonial or post-colonial authority controls education in the area. Thus, for example, Vietnamese has two writing systems, with the France-imposed Romanized orthography dominating.

The same sort of social stratification relationships seen between groups and their usage of a particular style of spoken language can also be seen between choice of writing systems, and choice of languages in areas with more than one vying for dominance.

Just needs source research. This is very basic and summarizing, but gets the gist across. We probably already have material in various articles with sources on most or all of this. I have too much on my plate for this right now, but these bits may inspire someone else work on this or something like it. There's little operational difference between "my language, or system for writing the one we share, is better than yours" and "my style of speaking or writing our language is better than yours"; they come from the same motivations and have similar social consequences. Other examples could be included (e.g. the UK, France, and Spain taking efforts within living memory to try to stamp out minority languages, and the very recent reversal of these trends in some places, such as increased use of Welsh). But a pile of examples is less important than the core of the material.  — SMcCandlish ¢ ≽ʌⱷ҅ʌ≼  05:52, 20 July 2017 (UTC)

"authorities whose judgment may be followed"Edit

The article tells us:

Prescription presupposes authorities whose judgment may be followed by other speakers and writers. An authority may be a prominent writer or educator such as [...] Strunk and White in their Elements of Style for American English.

Anyone's judgment may be followed by other speakers and writers. There are lots of prescriptive books, and presumably not all the copies thereof merely sit on shelves gathering dust; instead, non-trivial numbers of people attempt to follow the judgments therein (whether sporadically or fanatically). Outside their joint production, White was a prominent writer but Strunk an obscure educator. I don't think that either is famous for prescriptivism outside this book. Is this book taken as an authority? By many people, yes it is. I imagine that it's a/the best-seller in its genre. If this is the claim that's being made here, I suggest rephrasing to make this clear. If OTOH there's a claim being made for quality or the respect of people who are genuinely experts on language, then I'd like to see a refutation of this. -- Hoary (talk) 09:46, 27 November 2017 (UTC)

PS I now think that I (sleepily?) misread/misunderstood. I'm now in a rush and can't reexamine the (non?) issue; I hope to return later. -- Hoary (talk) 03:11, 1 December 2017 (UTC)

The same as above, more completely:

Prescription presupposes authorities whose judgment may be followed by other speakers and writers. An authority may be a prominent writer or educator such as [[Henry Watson Fowler|H. W. Fowler]], whose ''[[Fowler's Modern English Usage|Modern English Usage]]'' defined the standard for [[British English]] for much of the 20th century,<ref>McArthur (1992) p. 414</ref> or [[William Strunk, Jr.|Strunk]] and [[E. B. White|White]] in their ''[[Elements of Style]]'' for [[American English]].

Try this:

Prescription presupposes authorities whose judgments may come to be followed by many other speakers and writers. For English, these authorities tend to be books. [[Henry Watson Fowler|H. W. Fowler]]'s ''[[Fowler's Modern English Usage|Modern English Usage]]'' was widely taken as an authority for [[British English]] for much of the 20th century,<ref>McArthur (1992) p. 414</ref>; [[William Strunk, Jr.|Strunk]] and [[E. B. White|White]]'s ''[[The Elements of Style]]'' has done similarly for [[American English]].

--Hoary (talk) 08:07, 1 December 2017 (UTC)

Paragraph defending prescriptivism with questionable statements and no sourcesEdit

This:

A further problem is the difficulty of specifying legitimate criteria. Although prescribing authorities almost invariably have clear ideas about why they make a particular choice, and the choices are therefore seldom entirely arbitrary, they often appear arbitrary to others who do not understand or are not sympathetic to the goals of the authorities. Judgments that seek to resolve ambiguity or increase the ability of the language to make subtle distinctions are easier to defend. Judgments based on the subjective associations of a word are more problematic.

What is the source for this statement? -- "prescribing authorities almost invariably have clear ideas about why they make a particular choice".

This is problematic: "the choices are therefore seldom entirely arbitrary". Anyone can give reasons for their choices but this does not mean that they do not reflect arbitrary judgements.

"sympathetic to the goals of the authorities". This unquestioningly accepts the existence of "authorities" (their nature and credentials are not explained) to decide what people should and should not write.

"Judgments that seek to resolve ambiguity or increase the ability of the language to make subtle distinctions are easier to defend". This is talking in a vacuum, as is much of the paragraph. There is no indication what kinds of judgements are being discussed. (Indeed, "subtle distinctions" may be easier to "defend" but they are very hard to implement.)

"Judgments based on the subjective associations of a word are more problematic" -- Again, this is a statement in a vacuum.

The entire paragraph seems to be arguing, without any kind of examples or background, that people who protest about prescriptive choices just don't "understand" what these "authorities" are trying to do. On the contrary, I suggest that it is quite possible that some of the people who dismiss the "seldom entirely arbitrary" pronouncements of the "authorities" may in fact have a better understanding of language than the "authorities".

I suggest removing the entire paragraph as it does not seem to be saying anything useful or concrete, other than to vaguely defend "authorities" who make choices that are "seldom entirely arbitrary".

59.153.112.126 (talk) 01:11, 11 April 2018 (UTC)

"sympathetic to the goals of the authorities". This unquestioningly accepts the existence of "authorities" (their nature and credentials are not explained) to decide what people should and should not write. I think this is an overstatement. I'd say that the wording accepts that a lot of people believe that there are such authorities (and that, for English, they include Strunk, White, Fowler, etc), even if you and I would dispute that any such authorities exist. Note that the article has said at an earlier point: Prescription presupposes authorities whose judgments may come to be followed by many other speakers and writers. For English, these authorities tend to be books. Perhaps the first instance of "authorities" should be in scare quotes or this could be rephrased for the better, but anyway the article has already introduced the notion of (perceived) authorities. Now, if we look into (say) Fowler's book, we see that he does often go through the motions of appealing to clarity, concision, etc -- even though he seems inconsistent, capricious, out of touch with good writing of his time (let alone ours), and yes, often just arbitrary. ¶ I suggest that it is quite possible that some of the people who dismiss the "seldom entirely arbitrary" pronouncements of the "authorities" may in fact have a better understanding of language than the "authorities". Well yes of course! -- Hoary (talk) 08:06, 11 April 2018 (UTC)
This does not address my proposal, that the paragraph should be deleted or significantly rewritten. It cites no sources and appears to be little more than a vague defence of "authorities" who make choices that are "seldom entirely arbitrary" against people who "do not understand or are not sympathetic to the goals of the authorities". I would argue that this is POV (defending the "authorities" while misrepresenting the motives of many people who do not agree with them), unclear (no examples given, making it difficult to relate to anything), and makes unwarranted and unsupported statements ("almost invariably have clear ideas about why they make a particular choice", "choices are therefore seldom entirely arbitrary"). It could be deleted with little impact on the article.
59.153.112.126 (talk) 09:12, 11 April 2018 (UTC)
I would be against deleting, as this seem to me to be important, but you are welcome to discuss a rewrite. I think you are mistaken in thinking that the paragraph defends prescription. On the contrary, I find the language of this paragraph very balanced. Prescribing "authorities" (as the word is explained elsewhere in the article) are not necessarily idiots, and the article has a duty to try to understand what they are trying to do. This article should not defend them, but it should not condemn them either - we are about neutrality here. So we have to show both their point of view and that of their critics. And I find both things in this paragraph.
We have in the past had people appear here who want to change the article so it is an unmitigated castigation of all prescription. I'm not suggesting you want that, just pointing out that we have to defend against that trend. A Wikipedia article must show a controversy equally from both sides. --Doric Loon (talk) 11:29, 11 April 2018 (UTC)
I'm mostly in agreement with Doric Loon. Even people like Nevile Gwynne and Simon Heffer tend to appeal to (what they regard as) principles. The principles may be highly dubious (often depending on taste, which in turn is often arbitrary); but these writers believe that their condemnations and recommendations aren't arbitrary, and I imagine that most of their readers agree with them. That said, I do concede that there's something not quite satisfactory about "authorities" (even when in scare quotes). For example, for much of his book A Sense of Style, Steven Pinker is a prescriptivist (in a mild and avuncular way); yet I suspect that many of the appreciative readers of this book think of him not as an "authority" but rather just as somebody who writes well and who has given an unusual amount of thought to questions of what contributes to good writing and what detracts from it. ¶ Feel free to improve the paragraph, and/or to slap "{{Citation needed|date=April 2018}}" to the end of it. -- Hoary (talk) 13:28, 11 April 2018 (UTC)

'Globalize' introduction?Edit

In 2017 User:Geekdiva suggested that the introduction needed to be globalized, and that other sections may need to clarify what languages are involved. The lead section doesn't have too many examples, but the ones it had were only English. I added one French dictionary and removed two English ones, but there are still three English guides and only one non-English one in the section. On the other hand, the later sections seem to refer to a number of languages and regions. I wonder if the {{Globalize}} template is still needed? Cnilep (talk) 06:09, 12 September 2018 (UTC)

ChicagoEdit

We're told (after markup-stripping):

Other guides, such as The Chicago Manual of Style, are designed to impose a single style and thus remain primarily prescriptive (as of 2017)

I'm a bit out of date with this book; but as of a couple of editions back it was indeed prescriptive, yet very often in an advisory sort of way. It did not attempt to impose a single style. And anyway its subject-matter was linguistic only very peripherally if at all.

(By contrast, the MLA style guides did boss their readers around.)

Now, if the article is talking about the section within Chicago by Garner, that's rather a different matter. What he writes is about language. -- Hoary (talk) 01:07, 14 November 2018 (UTC)

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