Prescription and Description
Linguistic prescription is typically contrasted with the alternative approach linguistic description. Linguistic description (observation and explanation of how language exists and is used) establishes conceptual categories without establishing formal usage rules (prescriptions). About normative rules, the introduction to the Merriam–Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (1994) reports that: “Possible is sometimes considered to be an absolute adjective”.
In 1572 the fundation of the Accademia della Crusca set the model for future purist and prescriptivist institutions in Europe. It was met with the opposition of Cesare Beccaria and the Verri brothers (Pietro and Alessandro), which through their journal Il Caffè programmatically insulted the Accademia and its pedantic, archaic grammar in the name of Galileo and Newton and of a modern and cosmopolitan intellectual thought. Another typical criticism directed toward prescriptivism is verbosity. The discipline of modern linguistics originated in the 16th and 17th centuries from the comparative method of lexicography that was principally about classical languages, the results of which formed the bases, in the 18th and 19th centuries, of contemporary linguistics; by the early 20th century, descriptive research concentrated upon modern languages.
Despite the demotic intent of General American and Non-regional Pronunciation Englishes as “standard language”, upon being established as such, they are prescriptively exclusive of other Anglophone languages such as Scottish English, Hiberno-English, Australian English, and AAVE.
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Famous quotes containing the words prescription and/or description:
“The belief that there are final and immutable answers, and that the professional expert has them, is one that mothers and professionals tend to reinforce in each other. They both have a need to believe it. They both seem to agree, too, that if the professionals prescription doesnt work it is probably because of the mothers inadequacy.”
—Elaine Heffner (20th century)
“I fancy it must be the quantity of animal food eaten by the English which renders their character insusceptible of civilisation. I suspect it is in their kitchens and not in their churches that their reformation must be worked, and that Missionaries of that description from [France] would avail more than those who should endeavor to tame them by precepts of religion or philosophy.”
—Thomas Jefferson (17431826)