The key difference between prescriptivism and descriptivism is that prescriptivism is an approach that attempts to impose rules of correct usage on the users of a language whereas descriptivism is an approach that analyses the actual language used by speakers without focusing on aspects such as language rules or proper usage.
Prescriptivism and descriptivism are two contrasting approaches to language usage and grammar. Prescriptivism explains how language should be used whereas descriptivism describes how language is actually used.
1. Overview and Key Difference
2. What is Prescriptivism
3. What is Descriptivism
4. Relationship Between Prescriptivism and Descriptivism
5. Side by Side Comparison – Prescriptivism vs Descriptivism in Tabular Form
What is Prescriptivism
Prescriptivism is the belief that there are correct and wrong ways to use language. That is; in fact, an attempt to lay down rules defining the correct usage of language. In other words, prescriptivism explains how a speaker should use the language. Thus, grammar is a key aspect of prescriptivism. Some other major linguistic aspects addressed by prescriptivism are pronunciation, spelling, vocabulary, syntax, and semantics. Dictionaries, style and usage guides, writing handbooks, etc. are some texts that aid prescriptivism.
Moreover, prescriptivism mainly deals with language rules and correct language use. Prescriptivists often see breaking away from these rules as an error or mistake. Some examples of prescriptive rules are as follows:
• Do not end a sentence with a preposition.
• Never start a sentence with a conjunction.
• Do not use double negatives.
• Do not split infinitives.
What is Descriptivism?
Descriptivism is a nonjudgmental approach that analyses how language is actually used by its speakers. It is in direct contrast to prescriptivism. Moreover, there is no right or wrong way to use language in descriptivism. Also, it does not pass judgment, and does not attempt to get the users of a language to speak or write ‘correctly’; descriptivists merely observe, record and analyze language usage.
Furthermore, descriptivists study the language used in daily life by speakers from all walks of life; these studies include both standard and nonstandard language varieties. It is also important to note that descriptivism is the ultimate basis for dictionaries, which record changes in vocabulary and usage. Modern linguists often use a descriptive approach in their research as this allows them to study and analyze the real language usage.
What is the Relationship Between Prescriptivism and Descriptivism?
- Prescription and description are often seen as complementary.
- In the recent past, prescriptive texts such as dictionaries and usage guides actually integrate descriptive work and approach.
What is the Difference Between Prescriptivism and Descriptivism?
Prescriptivism is an approach to language that is concerned with establishing norms of correct and incorrect usage and formulating rules based on these norms. In contrast, descriptivism is a nonjudgmental approach to language that is concerned with actual language usage by its speakers and writers. Thus, the key difference between prescriptivism and descriptivism is that the former analyses how language should be used whereas the latter focuses on how language is actually used. More importantly, prescriptivism focuses on correct usage whereas descriptivism does not focus on what is right and wrong. This is also a significant difference between prescriptivism and descriptivism.
Moreover, prescriptivism is used mainly in fields like education and publishing whereas descriptivism is used in academic linguistics. Also, a further difference between prescriptivism and descriptivism is that the prescriptivism focuses on a standard variety of language whereas descriptivism studies both standard and nonstandard varieties of language.
The following infographic presents the difference between prescriptivism and descriptivism in tabular form.
Summary – Prescriptivism vs Descriptivism
Prescriptivism and descriptivism are two contrasting approaches to language usage and grammar. In summarizing the key difference between prescriptivism and descriptivism, prescriptivism is an approach that attempts to impose rules of correct usage on the users of a language whereas descriptivism is an approach that analyses the actual language used by speakers without focusing on aspects such as language rules or proper usage.
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