Linguistic prescriptivism is everywhere, and we may feel differently affected by it. What to think of the little red lines in Microsoft Word documents that tell us that certain spellings are wrong even though that is what we always wrote? What about spelling instructions in British style manuals that we used to think were typical of American English but that used to show the etymology of the words as being either of Greek or French origin? Who made these decisions to begin with? Who decided that it was alright (all right?) to use a split infinitive for the message “Are you sure you want to permanently delete all the items and subfolders in the ‘Deleted Items’ folder?” that appears upon exiting Microsoft Outlook? Why does scholarly advice on usage problems sometimes lead to death threats? What makes people utter such threats?
Questions like these deserve to be taken seriously, and that is the aim of the accompanying articles recently published in a special issue of English Today. They deal with various topics, like the rise of usage guides (like Fowler’s Modern English Usage), the lack of linguistic insight that lies behind many prescriptions in Strunk & White, the presence of a great deal of prescriptivism in supposedly descriptive works like the Oxford English Dictionary, and linguistic taboo and purism that gives rise to reactions to language programmes in the Australian media. Other articles in same issue of English Today deal with the question of how Fowler became “the” Fowler, and with what in Britain today is widely known as “the grocer’s apostrophe”.
Free access until 1st December 2010
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