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https://www.duolingo.com/JBranch1998

Grammar Pedantry (Prescriptivism) vs Science (Descriptivism)

You may have probably ascertained already under which camp I plant my little flag, but I am honestly curious as to the proportion of self-described prescriptivists we have as opposed to descriptivists. Maybe we'll have a nice little discussion as well.

I've been involved in so many debates in the comments of some sentences that it takes up a lot of room, too much room in fact, so it is obviously a contentious issue, but something that needs to be dredged up out of the depths of lessons into a discussion.

Clarification: I used the term "grammar Nazi" instead of "Grammar pedant" initially. I changed it to avoid whatever distress I might have caused by using the term which would ultimately distract from the aim of my discussion.

28
2 years ago

15 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
Usagiboy7
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I'm all for describing how people are using language, rather than telling them that one way is the right way in terms of grammar. I find associating rather small things with nazism not preferable, however. :(

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Reply12 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Elizabeth261736

I like knowing both! It's helpful if people tell me this is what is correct (according to a grammar teacher) and here is what people actually use in everyday life. Also keep in mind that what is typically said or not can vary a lot in different geographical regions.

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Reply2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sueefo

I read the same post as you but I didn't associate it with Nazism at all. A pedant is someone who uses unimaginative methods of teaching such as memorization. A pedant is also someone who sees more "nuts and bolts" than the big picture. That would describe someone who always corrects you when you say "who" instead of "whom."

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Reply2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Tattamin
Tattamin
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If you read all the comments carefully you'll notice that apparently the wording in the initial post has been changed.

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Reply2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/TrioLinguist

I'm personally leaning towards the descriptivist side. For example, I don't mind if someone says trotz dem Regen instead of trotz des Regens in German, or who when whom is correct in English, it's just linguistic reality and people should realize that rather than bashing "grammatical offenders" with rules. Nevertheless, as Usagi said, prescriptivism and nazism are on a completely different scale.

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Reply12 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/chirelchirel
chirelchirel
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Both approaches are useful in different situations. Prescriptivist approach sets a standard for the language, descriptivist approach accepts language as something that is always changing. When language has changed enough, the prescrivists change their rules to fit the language.

I find it strange that you associate descriptivism with science like prescriptivism had nothing to do with science. The rules prescritivism gives us are just as much based on science, but the point of view on language is different, the theory of language is different.

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Reply32 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
Usagiboy7
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When language has changed enough, the prescrivists change their rules to fit the language.

That's a really great point.

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Reply2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/kubelnaby
kubelnaby
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I think I can say that I am on both sides. It is fascinating to know how people actually talk, but at the same time I really want to know the exact, correct and "official" language.

We live in a time where almost every single town claims the right to speak its own language/variant of the language, and that's ok (although sometimes I honestly feel a lot of people have an annoying attitude when it comes to this), but a larger community, a State, really should have an official form, which is not a "best" form of a language, but simply the one to refer when we want to communicate with people from other parts of a State.

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Reply2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/kubelnaby
kubelnaby
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It might be of interest that a similar debate also arose in Ancient Rome: there were two sides, the analogists and the anomalists. The formers, like Caesar, were all for analògia, which means not accepting irregular forms (in declensions, conjugations, etc.) as proper Latin, while anomalists like Cicero were for anomàlia.

For example, some analogists sustained the total abrogation of the use of "familias" as a genitive of "familia", while anomalists accepted that form where it was traditionally used (mostly after "pater").

They never discussed whether to learn a "different" Latin (not until late antiquity), but only what to accept as proper Latin.

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Reply2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Loopulk

I think it's very important to learn grammar when learning a language (including one's native language). There's a huge difference between "Who are you doing this for?" and "For whom are you doing this?"

The general meaning is the same, but it comes off differently. Understanding the small differences allows language learners to better control how they come across to others. :)

One must learn the rules before they can be intentionally broken.

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Reply2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/vadimfowler

It sounds to me as a question that belongs to social science ;) But as a hardcore scientist, I will give the answer that is actually scientific: learning grammar as just an inevitable step in learning language - it is neither sufficient, nor avoidable. (besides grammar, there are also phonetics, vocabulary, etc.)

The children do acquire the knowledge of grammar of their native language without having to learn it deliberately (descriptivism?), but for the grown-up people learning grammar is a shortcut which allows to progress faster by appealing to our ability for logical thinking (while usually not having the language learning abilities of a child).

I realize that many people cringe at the very idea of learning anything that has to do with logic or math. It may indeed be avoided when you learn a language whose grammatical structure is similar to your native one: e.g., French may seem very different from English, but the principles of conjugation and the sentence structure in the two are in fact very similar... as compared, e.g., to Arabic/Hebrew.

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Reply2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/SporadicAspirant

Both approaches can describe a grammar.

The difference is that prescriptivism ignores (or worse condemns as improper) some variations, to promote only those variations which the prescriptivist prefers. The reason for promoting one variation over another may be as arbitrary as birthplace, or because another language (for example Latin) has that rule.

Here are a couple of links with more information:

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Reply2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Garrett2015
Garrett2015
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I used to be a hardcore prescriptionist. However, I believe it was when I stumbled upon an unexpectedly fascinating (and rather lengthy, at about an hour) presentation on YouTube that my views changed. It was by a delightful gentlemen (Michael Rundell) for the British Counsel, wherein he breaks down the arguments for and against prescriptivism and descriptivism. He's a lexicographer and the Editor-in-Chief of the Macmillan English Dictionary, and he makes a very strong philological case for descriptivism. After listening to his analyses, and diving into languages myself, I am now a big believer in the descriptivist perspective....something I never once expected.

Language is a living thing and is forever evolving: while both perspectives provide helpful insight, generally speaking I think descriptivism better represents the organic nature of language.

The presentation begins at 1:15:13, if anyone is interested. :-) https://youtu.be/OpsvnGSFvJ4?t=1h15m13s

P.S. On a related note...I think descriptivism has been good for my blood pressure!

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Reply2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/marcy65brown
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Enjoyed the presentation. Thank you.

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Reply2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/SporadicAspirant

In my opinion, many debates about points of grammar are because useful rules of thumb have gained an (unfortunately) elevated status as absolute rules.

While I wish to happily ignore anyone incorrectly stating absolutely that a language cannot work a particular way, because such comments can give a learner a false understanding of a language it is sometimes better not to ignore them. Such absolute statements can seem to state that no exceptions exist, or even can ignore that actual usage is in contrast to the absolute rule. Those statements which might mislead a learner, I sometimes might like to correct rather than ignore.

On the sentence discussions I wish to avoid prolonged arguments about who is right, nevertheless it is often (perhaps not always) useful to other learners to correct false absolute assertions.

To avoid being drawn into heated debate, it may often be useful to agree it is a useful rule of thumb or guideline, but also provide a link to a webpage about grammar myths, such as these (or more authoritative sources if you have the time to seek them out):

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Reply2 years ago