Saturday, October 10, 2009

Prescriptive vs. Descriptive

What I'm reading right now: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

A word on The Maze Runner. I'm only in the first chapters, but I can already see influences from Lord of the Flies and Ender's Game--hey, as far as influences go, them ain't bad. I heard James speak at the book launch and he admits that the book has been spoken of in the same sentences as Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games. I've picked up that one too, but I'm only a couple of chapters into it. From what others have told me, she's pretty good company to be in. I've seen some reviews where people feel that The Maze Runner is in the same genre but not as good. Then I've heard reviews from people who I actually know who can't speak highly enough of The Maze Runner. I guess we'll all just have to read them both and then discuss. I don't think either author will object to that course of action.

Prescriptive vs. Descriptive

You know how there are grammar snobs out there? Those who claim to know all of the rules of structure and usage and syntax and could go on about it ad nauseam? Interestingly enough, even they will often trip up on "who" & "whom." Well, I'm not one of them. I do pursue accuracy with language but I try not to judge or preach to others and how they choose to manipulate les bon mots.

SIDE NOTE: For an sensible take on who vs. whom, check out Orson Scott Card's essay here. It's about 2/3rds of the way down.

One of the charms of language is evolution. Language continues to change, grow, and adapt, lest it dies. How a language evolves can tell us a lot about a community, for instance a public forum used to be a place where people gathered to discuss a given topic--face to face. Now, you can chime in at a public forum completely anonymously and a chat room was the receiving room in a home where you could sit and entertain your guests.

First, let's give some definitions so we're all playing by the same rules. The first two I pulled from merriam-webster.com and the last yourdictionary.com:

Prescriptive or Prescription:

serving to prescribe : laying down rules or directions : giving precise instructions

Descriptive or Description

referring to, constituting, or grounded in matters of observation or experience

Such as descriptive linguistics: the branch of linguistics which describes the structure of a language or languages as they exist, without reference to their histories or to comparison with other languages

What this all amounts to is prescriptive grammar is text book grammar. Grammar that follows the rules as laid out by Strunk and White, if you will.

Descriptive grammar is the way people actually use the language, which may be contrary to the prescriptive guidelines, but is far more interesting.

I tend to fall on the side of descriptive. I do have my pet peeves, which will be voiced on a later posts, but tend to keep them to myself and not berate the user directly. I will however vent my peeves in this forum. And just because you may commit a prescriptive error and I choose to vent about it, by all means, don't change your ways on my account. If that were the case, we'd all be stoned to death.

4 comments:

Cosette said...

yay I found you! Somehow I missed your little announcement on FB. I added you to my blog reader thingy.

Anonymous said...

I am doing research for my college thesis, thanks for your great points, now I am acting on a sudden impulse.

- Laura

Anonymous said...

good points and the details are more specific than elsewhere, thanks.

- Thomas

Anonymous said...

I realize this is way, way after the fact since your original post is over 2 years old now... but just a quick note that you're mixing up "proscriptive" with "prescriptive".

While your overall point is correct, "proscribe" and "prescribe" have two distinct (if very vaguely related) definitions: basically "restrict" versus "direct". "Prescriptive" is the definition you're looking for in the comparison with descriptive grammar.


Get Follow Me Buttons