Letters to The Spectator
English: Prescriptive or Descriptive?
304 The Spectator
(4 August 2007) 25
||Doc. No. 2007.019
Graham Lord (article last week) gives a clue to the
increase in use of bad English when he points out that recent immigrants from Poland
and the Baltic countries speak our language
much better than many of our own young people do. The reason is that the incomers have
been taught by people who think it important to use correct English. That does not
apply to some teaching in our state school system today.
Jennifer Coates, Professor of
English and Linguistics at Roehampton University, recently wrote in the TLS “All linguistic researchers agree that it is not their task to
prescribe how people should speak or write: the linguistician’s task is to describe
language as it is actually used.”
David Crystal, author more than 100 books on English, says
people like Lynne Truss are equivalent to 19th–century quacks. He rejects prescriptivism as elitist, arising
from the class-conscious belief that some people’s usage is better than others.
He scornfully dismisses reformers he calls “Trussians”.
This attitude is linked
to the modern cult of being “non-judgemental” and
putting educated and uneducated speech on the same level of esteem, so as to avoid hurting
anyone’s feelings. There are other features of our modern society that can be linked
to the problem about which Mr Lord so graphically complains.
Chairman Emeritus, Professional Association