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Are these definitions of prescriptivism and descriptivism a good place to start for someone who wishes to know the differences in the two ways of thinking?

"Prescriptivism is based on the view that one variety of language is inherently superior to others and that this more highly valued variety should be imposed on the whole of a particular speech community."

"Descriptivism is based on the view that the assignment of a superior status to one variety of language is often arbitrary and is more likely to be the result of socio-economic factors than of intrinic linguistic factors."

From Keywords in Language and Literacy. By Ronald Carter
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Comments  (Page 4) 
MrPedantic
Milky
<To me "(not) acceptable" is as charged with prescription as "wrong", so I'm surprised to hear that.>

If someone informs me about what is acceptable in certain circumstances, I don't always assume that he is being personal.

But "acceptable" is nonetheless "acceptable to someone".

So wouldn't that be "prescriptiveness one step removed"?

MrP

Dan: Hey Davy, I'm gonna take Sarah to that new nightclub tonight.

Davy: Great idea! But I hear they don't accept casual wear.

Dan: Don't be so prescriptivist, Davy.

LOL! C'mon, guys.
Milky
Dan: Hey Davy, I'm gonna take Sarah to that new nightclub tonight.

Davy: Great idea! But I hear they don't accept casual wear.

Dan: Don't be so prescriptivist, Davy.

The nightclub prescribes; Davy relays the prescription.

So that sounds like "prescriptiveness one step removed" to me; which was what I said:
MrPedanticBut "acceptable" is nonetheless "acceptable to someone".

So wouldn't that be "prescriptiveness one step removed"?

MrP
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<So that sounds like "prescriptiveness one step removed" to me; which was what I said:>

So now describe for us your "one-step removed" idea. Are you accusing the relayer, the messenger, of being prescriptivist?

My idea of relaying a message would involve the relayer being asked to do such. If I describe any situation, am I always relaying information about that situation, or am I sometimes merely describing it?
But "acceptable" is nonetheless "acceptable to someone".

1. Yes. That's why I find unacceptable, unmodified, as prescriptive as wrong.
unacceptable to so-and-so; acceptable to so-and-so restores the descriptiveness.

2. On the other hand, since the academic tradition of "prescriptive" grammar can be seen as a description of language acceptable to academics, it is a subset of the description of all grammar, and therefore prescriptive grammar is also descriptive grammar. It only suffers from the fact that its practitioners do not always make clear what prescriptive grammar is a description of, and that they often use the word wrong instead of the words acceptable to academics.

3. Even in the most descriptive of grammars, you see sentences prefixed by an asterisk to show their unacceptablility. Unacceptable to whom, one asks. I always assume unacceptable to the author, and the author's judgment seems to parallel mine in most, but not all, cases. It's impossible to escape bias.

CJ

You can substitute whatever word you prefer for academics above.
<3. Even in the most descriptive of grammars, you see sentences prefixed by an asterisk to show their unacceptablility. Unacceptable to whom, one asks. I always assume unacceptable to the author, and the author's judgment seems to parallel mine in most, but not all, cases. It's impossible to escape bias.>

I've never come across anyone who thought that such comments as unacceptable, when made by descriptivists, were the personal opinion of the descriptivist.

<You can substitute whatever word you prefer for academics above.>

Substitute by using Standard English, which is the domain of most prescriptivists.

It seem that for you everyone is a descriptivist. Am I right? There is no such thing as prescriptivism, right?
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For me, anyone who comments on language in a way that is designed to influence someone else's usage is speaking "prescriptivistically".

The terms used may include "right", "wrong", "correct", "incorrect", "acceptable", "unacceptable", "standard", and "non-standard". As well as the asterisk.

The documentation of usage for academic reasons, on the other hand, may well be "descriptivistic".

Thus if I say "The use of x!é before an unaccented vowel is unacceptable to speakers of the most prestigious form of Züxtl", I am speaking descriptively if the phrase occurs in my PhD thesis, and prescriptively if it occurs in the class in which I teach young Thøkhians to speak Züxtl.

MrP
<Thus if I say "The use of x!é before an unaccented vowel is unacceptable to speakers of the most prestigious form of Züxtl", I am speaking descriptively if the phrase occurs in my PhD thesis, and prescriptively if it occurs in the class in which I teach young Thøkhians to speak Züxtl.>

Sounds like a language teacher's real function. Pity there are so many of the other kind - sold their souls to Standard English and prescriptivism..
A descripivist is like a botanist who sets out to study poppies. He will report that most poppies are red, but that other colours can be found. This will not worry him.

A proscriptivist is like a botanist who has decided that poppies are red and when he see one of a different colour wants to root it up.

Proscriptivism and descriptivism are not necessarily opposites.

Proscriptivism is essentially an authoritarian approach. It believes that there is one version of a language that is superior to another and that it should be imposed on everyone.

Descriptivism is a scientific approach which sets out, as the word implies, to describe what it finds and to report its findings without making any value judgement.

There will be a lot of common ground between the two; both will agree that forms such as "the cat red" are unacceptable.

When it comes to the standard version of a language both will agree that it is important. The difference is that the proscriptivist will insist that it is the only proper way to speak, whilst the descripivist will insist that other ways of speaking are appropriate in certain circumstances. A misunderstanding of the descriptivist's position leads to the notion in education that it is all right to let children speak and particularly write as they like. That is not the case at all. The number of people in a society who have a firm grasp of the standard language of that society is an indication of its level of education and it is important that the members of a society should be able to communicate with each other. A good teacher will insist that a pupil will write "we were" but not correct a child who says "we was".

Most people are, to a greater or less degree, bidialectal. The prescriptivist does not wish to accept that, but the descriptivist is happy with it, but that does not mean that he does not take a proscriptivist position when it comes to the teaching of the standard language. I would describe myself as a descriptivist, but this post is written in standard English. Taking a proscriptivist position in teaching the standard language does not of course mean that you have to go along with a lot of the nonsense spouted by Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells. To put it another way, it is acceptable to lay down rules about what is acceptable, but not to lay down rules about what is to be avoided.

When it comes to teaching English as a foreign language I do not see how, at least in the early stages, you can take other than a proscriptivist position and teach the standard language (or one of the standard languages if there are more than one). If you are not going to teach a standard what are you going to teach?
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Forbes
A good teacher will insist that a pupil will write "we were" but not correct a child who says "we was".

Would a good teacher tell the pupil that saying "we was" may put him at a disadvantage in certain situations?

Also, what will he tell the ESL student who says "we was"?

MrP
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