xtifr wrote:Linguistics is a science. The science of language. Language and grammar have rules. You determine those rules by examining the evidence. The evidence is what people say and write. Like most sciences, you have to examine the evidence, form hypotheses, test those hypotheses by gathering and examining further evidence, and gradually form theories, and so on.
That is evidence of what people think is wrong, not evidence of what is wrong. That's all descriptive investigation and so can't say anything about what's right or wrong, which are prescriptive notions.
No, what people think
is wrong is very different from what is actually wrong. Prescriptivists regularly say "do not do X", but then in the introduction to their book of prescriptivist poppycock
*, they do X several times. Because X isn't actually wrong, and they instinctively know that even though they falsely believe that it is wrong. Prescriptivists, more often than not, aren't even capable of following their own
Scientists (I think it's a more appropriate term than descriptivist) can tell what's right and wrong in language usage by examining the evidence.
And yes, they can most definitely determine what is wrong. Maybe not perfectly, but more perfectly than any other known approach!
In fact, I prefer the terms "scientist" and "priest" to "descriptivist" and "prescriptivist". It's a lot more accurate. And I'm not particularly interesting in listening to someone spout dogma at me, when that dogma clearly contradicts what science shows. As far as I'm concerned, prescriptivists are about as interesting as creationists. And about as useful to society.
Pfhorrest wrote:It's like trying to tell what's morally right or wrong by examining what behaviors get people censured or punished. That tells you what people's opinions are, but not which (if any) of them are correct.
I partly agree with what you say here, but I suspect I don't agree in the way you want me to. Determining what's morally right or wrong cannot be determined solely
from examining what behaviors incur punishment. You also have to look at the behaviors of other animals, consider payoffs from game theory, and compare different cultures to find common elements. And probably a lot more. Science shouldn't limit itself. It's not as simple as you suggest, but it's not magic either. It is wholly amenable to a scientific approach. And religion is only useful in this determination insofar as it provides more data for scientific analysis.
Likewise, learning the rules and grammar of languages is wholly amenable to a scientific approach, and cannot be aided or improved by inserting invented nonsensical rules that are mostly BS—rules which the promulgators typically do not even follow themselves!
Pfhorrest wrote:I think there's kind of a false dichotomy there, which reminds me of Gould's "non-overlapping magisteria", where science is called the approach of describing reality by means of reason and evidence, and religion the approach of prescribing it by dogma and faith. And on that matter I say no, first of all that religion makes plenty of descriptive claims (still appealing to dogma and faith), but more importantly that you can approach prescription with reason and evidence as well (though I'd hesitate to call it "science" for the descriptive connotations that carries).
Um, I side with Gould on this. I have some minor points of disagreement with him, but this isn't one of them. And I don't think the fact that religion makes descriptive claims contradicts the idea at all. The fact that religion makes claims outside of its proper domain doesn't mean those claims are useful or valid or relevant or worth the time of day.
But then you lost me. I may regret this, but can you give me a concrete example of "prescriptivism with reason and evidence"? Because to me, that sounds like an actual contradiction in terms. And I'm really getting the feeling you don't know what prescriptivism is, but I don't have enough evidence to confirm or deny that hypothesis.
And if you can't give me a concrete example, or something a whole
lot more solid than "well maybe there's something useful there I think, possibly, perhaps, kinda", then why is your notion worth wasting even a second of my own precious brain processing time on?
Just what, exactly, do you
think prescriptivism is?
* Prescriptivist poppycock is a technical term in linguistic jargon, as the link demonstrates. And this may or may not be a joke.
"[T]he author has followed the usual practice of contemporary books on graph theory, namely to use words that are similar but not identical to the terms used in other books on graph theory."
-- Donald Knuth, The Art of Computer Programming, Vol I, 3rd ed.