Date: Fri, 24 Apr 1998 11:05:42 -0400
From: Gregory {Greg} Downing
Subject: Writing prescriptions (Was Re: (In)flammable; Re: Other X's Than Y)

At 10:40 AM 4/21/98, creswell[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]crown.NET wrote:
>A fully and completely consistent descriptivist attude _does_ account for what
>Greg refers to as the "prescriptivist" decisions that humans make in planning
>and uttering speech. Good dictionary definitions report on the results of
>"prescriptivist" decisions made by humans in their speech and writing.
>I think, however, that it confuses the issue to refer to such decisions as
>"prescriptivist." I prefer to reserve the term _prescriptive_ to refer to
>injunctions by "experts," not to decisions made by speakers/writers.

Sorry not to have gotten back about this topic earlier; it's "that time" in
the semester.

Your first para. is quite unexceptionable, and exactly what I had in mind in
sending the post to which you are responding.

Your second para. is a tougher nut to crack. How is it that the definitions
of "[putative] expert," "speaker," and "writer" are set up in such a way as
to exclude the first category from the other two? If "[putatively] expert"
speakers/writers are being defined as somehow distinct from all other
speakers/writers, and only the [putative] experts' prescriptivisms are being
viewed as illegitimate, it seems that some speakers/writers are more equal
than others. Obviously, the grounds for this differential treatment could
not be a general desire to take a fully inclusive, empirical approach to
human linguistic behavior. One wonders if it might not have to do with
professional rivalry between two groups having different approaches to
language-study. Not being a member of either camp, and having learned a good
deal from both camps, I don't have strong side-taking feelings about this
rivalry. But I also don't feel compelled to knuckle under to either side.
I'd prefer to observe them both in a more genuinely empirical fashion, and
see what can be learned from inferring rather than rooting.

At 13:12:22 4/21/98, "Donald M. Lance" wrote:
>Tom Creswell's comments on prescriptivism were good. Prescriptivism isn't
>all bad; it's actually what we all operate with much of the time, in
>language as well as in other activities.

Right, but if we want to think about these matters clearly, two related
criteria that we should bear in mind are consistency and cohesion.

>At 11:25 PM 4/23/98, "Donald M. Lance" wrote:
>>>If I understand your posting, your "other X's other than Y's" is your
>>>"correction." I say "other X's than Y's" and consider your construction
>>>to have an unnecessary redundancy.
>>>As I asked before: Geek grammar rules?

I think I'd probably agree on the subject at hand: you can say "other x's
than y" or "x's other than y," but why would you need to repeat the "other"?
However, to use the phrase "unnecessary redundancy" without explanation or
nuance is to be prescriptivist, right? So I'm back to my consistency
problem. A claim that usage as it actually happens is the only valid
criterion for what language is makes it impossible to talk about errors in
usage -- other than inconsistenly.

Of course, if enough people all started making this doubled-other "mistake,"
we could easily call it yet another example of the status of natural
language as not absolutely logical, in any formal, quasi-mathematical sense.
Or, more generously, we could call the duplicated "other" emphatic
reduplication or the like, as people do with double negatives in English
when they become common enough in practice.

>>>By the way, we vets say you've misspelled fubar.

See above comments about dealing consistently with prespcriptivism.

>>(I had intended the msg with single < > to go to ads-l, but Andrea has her
>>e-mail set up so that replies go to her rather than to ads-l.)

You also mentioned this about another post maybe four days back. You have to
look at the to-address before hitting send. As on many many lists, some
posters' e-mails will generate a reply to the list, and other posters'
e-mails will generate a personal reply. For example, Tom Cresswell's posts
to ADS-L also generate personal replies, on my end anyway. I'm not sure if
individual posters would even be aware of this issue with regard to their
own posts, let alone being able to do something about it themselves. It may
have something to do with how their email system interfaces with the ADS
listserv program. However, maybe someone on this list has more technically
sound advice. In the meanwhile, it's easy enough to check and change the
address if necessary. I've seen people who don't check to-addresses send
very embarrassing private messages to large lists.

Greg Downing/NYU, at greg.downing[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] or gd2[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]