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In this essay, I will be discussing about the language battle that goes on between prescriptivism vs. descriptivism rules. Descriptive rules try to describe how native speakers of a language use it, while prescriptive rules tell speakers how they should use language. In descriptive grammar there is no such thing as being right or wrong in how you speak whereas with prescriptive grammar you must follow certain rules to be able to speak correctly. So which one should people follow as the right rule, prescriptivism or descriptivism? Can prescriptivism and descriptivism coexist? I will be studying and reading into a few texts to decide what the outcome to these questions are.
Prescriptivism is said to be an idea that should stay always stay the same and shouldn’t change. Anne Curzan says that “descriptivism focuses on what speakers do with language, based on empirical evidence; prescriptivism lays down rules for what speakers should do with language”. Prescriptivists don’t like it when new things are being added to the language and they just prefer it to be the same as when they first experienced the language, whereas, descriptivists accept language change and also like learning different possibilities of language to improve and expand their understanding of the language. The crisis of the changing language is not a new or worrying concept, according to Daniels (1983, p.29). Language is supposed to grow and change with those who are speaking it. Language helps people to see the world in new ways and helps people learn new different things like different languages, grammar and speaking. One of Daniels rules is that “Everyone speaks a dialect” (Daniels 1983, p.23) and dialect is “certain set of lexical, phonological, and grammatical rules that distinguish it from others”(Daniels 1983, p.23) however, things like geographic separations, education and economy can cause changes in dialect as language changes. For example, Daniel claims if there are two groups who live in the same location and one group decides to move away from that location to a different location and doesn’t have any communication with the other group anymore, it is more likely that “the languages of the two groups will gradually diverge” (Daniels 1983, p.23) which is due to the environment, society or just inevitable changes. Also, the type of people you’re around also affects your dialect. Therefore, the idea that prescriptivism believe that language should stay the same is merely impossible due to these reasons above.
Prescriptivism has many rules, one of them being that you must not use the passive voice. Many writers in the 20th century went on and on about not using the passive voice, for example, Orwell quoted to “Never use the passive where you can use the active” George Orwell,`Politics and the English language’, 1946 and that “it is claimed, if you use passives: your writing will become weak, dull, vague, cowardly, bureaucratic, and dishonest.” (Pullum 2014, p.1). We were always taught that good writers do not use the passive voice, and even Microsoft Word has been made to follow the rules of prescriptivism. For example, if you use a passive voice or end a sentence with a preposition, Microsoft Word automatically places green squiggly lines underneath the places where this occurs. Curzan claims that “The Microsoft grammar checker is now the English teacher that some writers never had or never listened to” (Curzan 2014, p.64). Using passive writing isn’t always bad as passive writing does help improve the way a text has been written and does also make writing much more interesting which will grab the readers attention. If you think that the subject should be voiced as passive then there is nothing wrong with using the passive voice. Of course there are times where you should avoid using the passive voice as active verbs make a text more lively and creates action to a text. If both prescriptivism and descriptivism coexist, it allows language to be more consistent and allows for new lexemes to be added. If language never changed or new grammar was never created then there would be many things that would not have names and many people would struggle with communicating. Language will always evolve and trying to stop the evolving process in language will only make it worse. Many argue that prescriptivism and descriptivism should not coexist, and that only one side is the right way to use language. However, if they coexist it makes language better and the battle between which idea is right and which idea is wrong could finally come to an end.
It is said that in Daniels article “Children learn their native language swiftly, efficiently, and largely without instruction” (Daniels 1983, p. 19) and that children learn to speak the same way they naturally learn to walk. Children are not taught by their parents on how to talk, but by using and hearing language by the people around them. The language used in a child’s home or community is their native language and it would be impossible for a child to start speaking a language that they were never exposed to. We adapt to our surroundings and by listening to people so the idea that only one rule should be used whether it’s prescriptivism or descriptivism is completely wrong. Both language and speakers can change and adapt to meet new needs. The fifth idea is “speakers of all languages employ a range of styles and a set of subdialect or jargons” (Daniels 1983, p.24) which is the ability to alter language forms to social context. Humans automatically and unconsciously adjust their language and talk differently depending on the person they’re talking to. In 1962, Martin Joos created five levels of formality that are used depending on the relation to the other person someone is talking to. These five levels were intimate, casual, consultative, formal and frozen. Although not all five formalities were always used in different societies, it is also important to realize that not all ideas could be expressed through every type of formality. Language helps people view the world in new ways and learn different things such as: different languages, ways of speaking, and the grammar for that language.
To conclude, both prescriptivism and descriptivism could solve the whole battle between which idea is right or wrong and it would influence language to be better as language would evolve and to try and stop language change will bring linguistic chaos. Language is for us to understand and communicate with each other so as long as we can understand each other then language evolving over time will not cause any problems. If prescriptivism and descriptivism was to occur together, it allows English to have discipline and a standard, while allowing new lexemes to be added in a functional and orderly manner.