Friday, April 12, 2013

Linguistic Prescription: Rules Were Made To Be Broken

When it comes to language are you the good cop or the bad cop? Do you go by the book or play fast and loose with the rules? Today we're looking at the points for and against linguistic prescription, the idea that one way of speaking or using a language is superior to all others.

Rules are there for a reason...

You don't want to end up in a courtroom
because of your relaxed writing style!
Much like taking someone home at the end of the night, there's no point in trying anything without both parties coming to an agreement. If you don't have any rules then communication can become almost impossible.

Linguistic prescription also helps when it comes to specific types of writing. Having an authority when it comes to journalistic, medical or legal style can be helpful in avoiding confusion and, in the case of all three examples, legal action.

When clarity is a necessity, having a standard form of language and maintaining a strict set of rules is not only beneficial but indispensable.

Rules were made to be broken...

If language was held to one set of rules then everything would become bland. We wouldn't have our favourite accents, new words or irregular grammatical structures. We saw that excessive degrees of linguistic prescription, such as Orwell's Newspeak, could be used to harm free speech, though an extreme example. To a lesser extent it would certainly hurt literature, theatre and cinema.

The English language lacks, to some degree, linguistic prescription as there is no official governing body. This does give rise to arguments between speakers of British English and speakers of American English but as long as it's friendly banter and not bloodshed, we can live with it.

Most of us follow the rules when it comes to formal situations like academic essays or speeches, but leave them aside the rest of the time, whether at the pub or writing emails to friends. How do you use or disregard linguistic prescription in your everyday life? Let us know in the comments!

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