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The attitude or belief that one variety of a language is superior to others and should be promoted as such. An ardent promoter of prescriptivism is called a prescriptivist or stickler.

A key aspect of traditional grammar, prescriptivism is characterized by a concern for "good," "proper," or "correct" usage. Contrast with descriptivism.

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  • "[Prescriptivism is the] policy of describing languages as we would like them to be, rather than as we find them. Typical examples of prescriptivist attitudes are the condemnation of preposition stranding and of the split infinitive and a demand for It's I in place of the normal It's me."
    (R.L. Trask, Dictionary of English Grammar. Penguin, 2000)

  • "A prescriptive grammar is essentially a manual that focuses on constructions where usage is divided, and lays down rules governing the socially correct use of language. These grammars were a formative influence on language attitudes in Europe and America during the 18th and 19th centuries. Their influence lives on in the handbooks of usage widely found today, such as A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926) by Henry Watson Fowler (1858-1933), though such books include recommendations about the use of pronunciation, spelling, and vocabulary as well as grammar."
    (David Crystal, How Language Works. Overlook Press, 2005)

  • "[T]he overt anti-prescriptive stance of linguists is in some respects not unlike the prescriptivism they criticize. The point is that both prescriptivism and anti-prescriptivism invoke certain norms and circulate particular notions about how language ought to work."
    (Deborah Cameron, Verbal Hygiene. Routledge, 1995)

  • Language Wars
    "The history of prescriptions about English--of grammar texts, manuals of style and 'O tempora o mores'-type laments--is in part a history of bogus rules, superstitions, half-baked logic, groaningly unhelpful lists, baffling abstract statements, false classifications, contemptuous insiderism and educational malfeasance. But it is also a history of attempts to make sense of the world and its bazaar of competing ideas and interests. Instinctively, we find the arbitrariness of existence hard to accept. Our desire to impose order on the world, which means inventing the forms of language rather than discovering them, is a creative act. Furthermore, the quarrel between descriptivists and prescriptivists . . . is a sort of mad confederacy: each party thrives on lambasting the other."
    (Henry Hitchings, The Language Wars. John Murray, 2011)

  • The Problem WIth Prescriptivists
    "[G]eneral ignorance of grammar allows prescriptivists to impose nonsensical mandates and allows test-makers and test-takers to focus primarily on superficial error in language use."
    (Martha Kolln and Craig Hancock, "The Story of English Grammar in United States Schools." English Teaching: Practice and Critique, Dec. 2005)
Pronunciation: pree-SKRIP-ti-viz-em
Also Known As: linguistic prescriptivism, purism

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