PRESCRIBING AN DESCRIBING :
POPULAR AND ACADEMIC VIEW OF ‘CORRECTNESS’
A. Children’s language at home and school
As every parent knows, young children speak idiosyncratically. A child growing up in an English-speaking family, for example, might say ‘I brang it’, even though everyone around them says ‘I brought it’ to mean the same thing. Even when the child does say ‘I brought it’, they may still not pronounce the words as adults most anxious ones-are usually indulgent of such deviations. They are the stuff of anecdotes and affectionate memories rather than serious concern. It is clear after all what the child is saying, and most idiosyncrasies disappear of their own accord.
Within the school context by far the most controversial aspect of this situation involves the relationship or the standard form of the language to dialects. The standard is generally is used in written communication, thought in schools, and confidied in dictionaries and grammar books. Dialects are regional and social class varieties of the languages which differ from the standard in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary, and are seldom written down at all. The teaching of the standard can be viewed in two quite contradictory ways.
In Bernstein’s view, the language used in some sections of society is a restricted code which lacks the full resources of the more elaborated code of the standard. Not surprisingly, this view has been hotly contested by others who argue that all varieties are equally complex, functional, and expressive.
Schools are a good barometer of both language use and social values, and their approach to teaching the national language or languages, which is much the same all over the world, arises from language-is subject to enormous variation. There are differences between individuals, social groups, generations, and nations, and language is used differently in speech and writing, and in formal and informal situations. The second fact is that many people are intolerant of this variation. The struggle for a single ‘standard’ way of using the language and care very deeply about achieving this norm.
B. Description versus prescription
The academic discipline charged with the study of language. Decisive and authoritative judgements can be found. Linguistics tend to favour description (saying what does happen) over prescription (saying what ought to happen) and argue that, from a linguistics point of view, the standard is neither superior nor more stable than any other variety. To justify their views they point to such facts as the following ;
1. if there was never any deviation from the norm then languages would never change. We would all still by saying ‘wherefore art you? Instead of ‘why are you?’
2. if single standard was absolute and unassailable then regional standards would never gain independence. Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language would have the same standing as a bad piece of school work, and would be as incorrect to write colour in Washington in London
3. dialects have their own consistent rule governed grammars, every bit as complex and expressive as those of standard forms.
4. The standard form of a language is often very similar to the usage of the most economically and politicallypowerfull class or region.
5. the grammar of written language differs considerably from that of speech, even among speakers whose variety is closest to the standard, and writing carries more prestige and authority.
6. some supposedly correct forms have been invented and imposed by grammarians through analogy with another language.
While all of these arguments appear to have a kind of relentless logic to them, they depend on a detachment from social reality and are very much at odds with a deeply felt public view of language.
Academic do not have a monopoly either on knowledge or on rational argument. The same is true in many analogous domains – for example, medicine, nutrition, or childcare – where everyday activity, vital to people’s well being, is also the subject of academic research. While there is force in descriptivist arguments, there are also valid reservations to be made about them:
1. To talk abouot a language at all, there must be some preexisting notion of what does and does not count as an example. Descriptivists may accept, as instances, some examples of dialectal forms which hard-line prescriptixists would exclude, but there are always others-from another language for example-which they reject.
2. In deciding what does count as an example of the language, linguistics often base their decisions upon native-speaker use or judgement.
3. Despite descriptivists insistence on the equality of all varieties, it is nevertheless the standard which is most often used in their analyses while other varieties are described as departures from it,
4. If linguistics are concerned with describing and explaining facts about language, then the widespread belief in prescriptivism, and the effect of this of this beliefs on language use, itself a fact about language which needs describing and explaining.
5. Paradoxically, to advocate description and outlaw prescription is itself p respective.
C. An applied linguistics perspective
There is clearly material here for a head-on collision- and this indeed is what regularly happens when the two sides exchange influenced either by appeals to logic or to evidence. This is because adherence to one side or the other is often as much emotional and ideological as rational. Descriptivists, on the one hand, are passionate believers in an objective science of language; prescriptivists, on the other, feeling that their very identity and heritage is at stake, have an equally strong desire to impose conformity. Given the incompatibility of the two views, it is unrealistic that people holding either will simply make way for the other. To make any headway, applied linguistics has the very difficult task of trying to find points of contact in the contrary views so that necessary decisions can be made.
The first step is to recognize that, as points of view, they cam be taken as different perceptions which need not be seen as competing alternatives. Thus it is unquestionably the case, as descriptivists tell us, that all language varies, that all language carries markers of social identity, and that there is no way of establishing the relative superiority of a form of speaking on linguistic grounds. When varieties are preferred or stigmatized it can only be for sociopolitical or ideological reasons.
The merits of the rival arguments for descriptivism and prescriptivism and there is certainly a degree of truth on both sides in many practical activities it is simply impossible to proceed without some notion of correct language use.