Date: Tue, 21 Apr 1998 10:40:04 -0500
From: Thomas Creswell
Subject: Re: (In)flammable

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 those
"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.

Gregory {Greg} Downing wrote:

> At 12:49 AM 4/21/98 -0600, you wrote:
> >>There are two _in-_ prefixes, one being a negator and the other referring
> >>to 'enabling'. So 'inflammable' refers to an object consisting of a
> >>substance that may be 'inflamed' when subjected to a heat source above a
> >>certain temperature -- though this is not the most common use of
> >>'inflame'. Discussions of the inappropriateness of the term 'inflammable'
> >>are typical of dicta offered by prescriptivists who don't want to bother
> >>doing homework because they already know everything that anyone could
> >>possibly learn about language by consulting dictionaries etc.
> >
> >DMLance
> >
> Isn't the elimination of the "in-" from "inflammable" actually an example of
> linguistic *innovators* (not "tradition"-maintaining prescriptivists) simply
> giving in to the descriptivistically observed problem of confusion between
> two phonetically identical prefixes of often opposite meanings?
> But since you raise prescriptivism, a larger point to think about is that
> linguistically prescriptivist activities (i.e., decisions about what is
> "better" and what is "worse" usage -- decisions which are in fact
> unavoidable in the production of any utterance) are part of what human
> beings in fact do, with a good deal of frequency. So a fully and
> consistently descriptivist attitude toward language would need to include
> and account for prescriptivist activity as one component of its full
> description of language.
> Gregory {Greg} Downing, at greg.downing[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] or downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]