Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Prescriptivism

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
English

Linguistic prescriptivism refers to the belief that a particular form of language is superior to another and should be treated as such. It imposes rules on the use of language, asserting the 'correctness' of certain words, phrases, grammar and the 'incorrectness' of others.

Fun fact: Prescriptivism prescribes how language should be used.

Some Features of Prescriptivism

Prescriptivism

Concerned with establishing a correct / incorrect use of language and with following rules.

Enforces the adherence to language rules.

Most frequently applied in education, publishing, style guides, 'professional' environments.

Only focuses on enforcing the standard form of language.

Those who practise and promote prescriptivism are referred to as having a prescriptivist attitude, or referred to simply as prescriptivists. Prescriptivists focus on how language should be used rather than on how it is used.

In England, a linguistic prescriptivist promotes Standard English and (possibly) Received Pronunciation (the accent associated with the English home counties). This is the 'standard' form of English.

Prescriptivism is the opposite of descriptivism. Descriptivism is a non-judgmental, evidence-based approach to analyzing language use.

  • Linguists with a prescriptivist attitude focus on enforcing the pre-established grammar rules.

  • Linguists with a descriptivist attitude focus on analyzing language as it is used in everyday communication.

Examples of Prescriptivist attitudes

  • Prescriptivists would demand the use of 'my friend and I met for coffee' rather than 'my friend and me went swimming', citing the grammatical incorrectness of the latter despite its frequent use.

  • 'Fewer than' vs 'Less than' is an example of where a prescriptivist might compare the grammatical rules and conventions of both phrases to see which is appropriate to use.

  • The condemnation of double negatives is another example of a prescriptivist attitude.

Who takes a Prescriptivist approach to language, and when?

Prescriptivism is typically used in fields where standard practice is maintained across the country. Here are some examples:

  • Education

  • Publishing

  • Style guides

  • Newspapers, (professional) magazines

In each of these fields, there is a need for 'correct' language.

The Benefits of Prescriptivism

Wherever there is a need to enforce grammatical or linguistic regulations, a prescriptivist approach is preferable to a descriptivist approach.

  • Prescriptivism establishes a standard of language that is consistent:

  • Prescriptivism can be seen as a necessary feature of education, publishing and other fields that require standard English.

  • This can be useful for education in particular, as students need to be taught the same curriculum across the country in order to sit the same exams and acquire the same qualifications.

  • Is useful for those learning a language for the first time.

  • Those hoping to learn a language like English can benefit from understanding how language is used in daily life (descriptive approach) and how language should be used depending on the situation (prescriptivist approach).

  • Prescriptivism might be the preferred approach as this new learner would need to be aware of the rules of the language they are learning.

The Problems with Prescriptivism

Prescriptivism is not sociological:

  • The belief that language is either right or wrong stigmatises the varieties of language used within communities and limits the understanding of, or even an interest in understanding, certain uses of English (in our case).

  • Prescriptivists see language as right or wrong and rarely consider the contexts in which languages arise and evolve. A prescriptive approach can in some cases be used to debase other, legitimate but non-standard, forms of English. This can lead to negative associations.

  • Prescriptivism is neutral, but may give rise to prejudices. For instance, AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) is viewed as the language of the 'ghetto', or the dialects of the North of England are viewed as 'lower class'.

Can be superficial in its application:

  • Prescriptivists often hyper-fixate on established grammatical rules to critique the use of language, rather than attempting to understand the intended message in context. As an approach, it fails to study the (essential) role of language as a social phenomenon.

Offers a less accurate assessment of language use across the world than the descriptivist approach:

  • This is because descriptivism focuses on studying language, varieties and dialects used in daily life, while prescriptivism focuses on enforcing linguistic correctness.

Prescriptivism - Key takeaways

  • Linguistic prescriptivism refers to the belief that a particular form of language is superior to another and should be treated as such. It imposes rules on the use of language, establishing the 'correctness' of certain words, phrases, grammar and the 'incorrectness' of others.

  • Those who practise and promote prescriptivism are referred to as having a prescriptivist attitude, or referred to simply as prescriptivists. Prescriptivists focus on how language should be used.

  • Prescriptivism is most frequently applied in education, publishing, style guides, 'professional' environments.

  • The benefits of prescriptivism are that it establishes a standard practice in these fields that is consistent, and it is useful for those learning a language for the first time.

  • The problems with prescriptivism are that it rarely considers the contexts in which languages arise and evolve, can be superficial in its application, and is probably a less accurate reflection of language use across the world than the descriptivist approach.

  • Prescriptivism is neutral, but fails to study the (essential) role of language as a social phenomenon.

Prescriptivism

Linguistic prescriptivism is the belief that a particular form of language is superior to another and should be treated as such.

The shortfalls of prescriptivism:

  • Treats language as hierarchical, which is possibly rooted in prejudice

  • Can be superficial in its application

  • Likely a less accurate reflection of language usage across the world than the descriptivist approach

Prescriptivism is the belief that a particular form of language is superior to another and should be treated as such. Descriptivism is the analysis of how language is used by its speakers/writers that is a non-judgemental approach to analysing language usage. 

Final Prescriptivism Quiz

Question

Fill in the blanks: Linguistic prescriptivism refers to the belief that a particular form of language is ______ to another and should be treated as such.  


Show answer

Answer

superior

Show question

Question

What is the aim of linguistic prescriptivism?

Show answer

Answer

To establish the ‘correctness’ of certain words, phrases, grammar and the ‘incorrectness’ of others.

Show question

Question

T or F: The ‘correct’ usage of language is considered to be the grammatical rules and conventions that have been predetermined by scholars and those in positions of power such as the Oxford and Cambridge institutions. 


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

What determines the ‘correctness’ of language to prescriptivists?

Show answer

Answer

‘Correct’ language refers to grammatical rules and conventions that have been predetermined by a system of language standardisation by scholars and those in positions of power.

Show question

Question

What is the standardised form of English that is nationally understood to be the ‘official’ way of speaking/writing?


Show answer

Answer

Standard English, which is the Received Pronunciation accent, and the grammar/vocabulary of United Kingdom Standard English.

Show question

Question

What field is prescriptivism least likely to be used?


Show answer

Answer

Education  

Show question

Question

Why is prescriptivism a useful approach to education?


Show answer

Answer

 It is useful in fields that require standard English, which is useful for education in particular, as students need to be taught the same curriculum across the country.

Show question

Question

T or F: Prescriptivism is concerned with enforcing Standard and Non-Standard forms of English

Show answer

Answer

False - Prescriptivism is only concerned with enforcing Standard English.

Show question

Question

Fill in the blanks: _________ might be the preferred approach for those learning a language like English as new learners would need to be aware of the rules of the language they are learning.

Show answer

Answer

Prescriptivism

Show question

Question

Which of these is a shortfall of prescriptivism?:


Show answer

Answer

Treats language as hierarchical

Show question

Question

When is prescriptivism the preferred approach to analysing language to descriptivism?


Show answer

Answer

Wherever there is a need to enforce grammatical or linguistic regulations

Show question

Question

Why is prescriptivism likely an inaccurate reflection of language usage across the world than descriptivism?

Show answer

Answer

As prescriptivism focuses on enforcing pre-conceived linguistic rules rather than on studying language used in daily life.

Show question

Question

Fill in the blanks: In the future, we as language speakers may appreciate the ____ nature of prescriptivism.

Show answer

Answer

fixed

Show question

Question

What will the role of prescriptivism be over time?

Show answer

Answer

The role of prescriptivism will be to map the evolution of the grammatical and structural rules within a language.

Show question

Question

T or F: Prescriptivism imposes rules on the usage of language, establishing the ‘correctness’ of certain words, phrases, grammar and the ‘incorrectness’ of others. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Prescriptivism quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.