Linguistic Prescription - Aims


The main aims of linguistic prescription are to specify standard language forms either generally (what is Standard English?) or for specific purposes (what style and register is appropriate in, for example, a legal brief?) and to formulate these in such a way as to make them easily taught or learned. Prescription can apply to most aspects of language: spelling, grammar, semantics, pronunciation and register. Most people would agree that in all of these areas it is meaningful to describe some usages as, at least, inappropriate in particular contexts. One main aim of prescription is to draw workable guidelines for language users seeking advice in such matters.

Standardized languages are useful for interregional communication: speakers of divergent dialects may understand a standard language used in broadcasting more readily than they would understand each other's dialects. It can be argued that such a lingua franca, if needed, will evolve by itself, but the desire to formulate and define it is very widespread in most parts of the world. Writers or communicators who wish to use words clearly, powerfully, or effectively often use prescriptive rules, believing that these may make their communications more widely understood and unambiguous.

A complementary aim of linguistic prescription may be the imposition of a political ideology. During the second half of the 20th century, politically motivated linguistic prescription recommended by various advocacy groups had considerable influence on language use in the context of political correctness, imposing special rules for anti-sexist, anti-racist or generically anti-discriminatory language (e.g. "people-first language" as advocated by disability rights organizations). George Orwell in Politics and the English Language (1946) criticized the use of euphemisms and convoluted phrasing as a means of hiding insincerity. Orwell's fictional "Newspeak" (1949) is a parody of ideologically motivated linguistic prescriptivism.

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