Is verbal usage simply a matter of social usage, an aspect of etiquette? A dictionary, Dr. Philip B. Gove, former editor of the controversial Websters III dictionary, “should have no traffic with …artificial notions of correctness or superiority. It must be descriptive, not prescriptive.” At least this was the view that was approved almost unanimously by all the apostles and exponents of Structural Linguistics. This was part of a revolution in the teaching in English that had taken root in the 1930’s and that has continued down to our own cyber times:
Web 3 turned the relationship around, with the editors led by Philip Gove renouncing the role of judge. When the volume came out, their decision erupted into a national forum on the state of American culture. The tale is told marvelously in The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published, a narrative history by David Skinner, which displays well the sociopolitical under- and over-tones of what at first seems just a squabble among scholars.
Notices in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and so on mocked the dictionary for its liberalizing thrust. Dwight Macdonald in The New Yorker regretted the “trend toward permissiveness, in the name of democracy, that is debasing our language by rendering it less precise and thus less effective as literature and less efficient as communication” (March 10, 1962), while Jacques Barzun in The American Scholar termed it “a subtle attack on The Word” (Spring 1963). Gove and others responded with a basic reiteration of descriptivist premises such as “Correctness rests upon usage” and “All usage is relative.”…
The debate has continued, but while some measure of prescriptivism has survived in public discussion, among academics the prescriptivists have nearly disappeared. At this point, anyone claiming that this or that common usage is an inherently inferior expression is roundly scorned in the field.Read More:http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/01/7265/
The gist of Gove’s attack was based around the concept of relativity and by extension the idea of moral relativity. He included hundreds of transitory and dubious expressions as standard while expunging a quarter of a million words from the literary past, with the cut off date arbitrarily set at 1755; also discarding illustrative citations from the classics in favor of then contemporary utterances by the likes of Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, Art Linkletter, Ethel Merman, Polly Adler and Willie Mays.
(see link at end)…In other words, experts prefer one expression to another because of social circumstances—that’s all. Even a double-negative such as don’t get no, Pinker states, involves no logical problem, for we choose don’t get any merely for accidental reasons of English history. If everybody uses and understands don’t get no, then it is altogether warranted for lexicographers to prefer it to, say, does get no (which nobody uses).
How are prescriptivists to respond? First of all, by spotlighting this turn as a forensic set-up and detailing how it works. Constructionists remove the natural or logical basis of human things, substituting convention and social practices for them, the new definitions becoming axiomatic for the field. If you don’t subscribe to them, you don’t deserve a place in the conversation. When someone comes along and affirms a basis that transcends social conditions, social constructionists can treat them as the ones making something up, fabricating an existence, even if humankind at large believed in that existence for hundreds of years previous (such as the belief that some humanessions are inherently superior to others). Denunciation and removal, then, come easily.
Lexicography is but one field in which sneering at persons who are not social constructionists has become commonplace. In my field of literary studies it happens all the time, and I see no sign that constructionists plan on changing. The tactic is too easy and efficient. But until defenders of inherent virtues, natural laws, divine beings, and other things that transcend social reality learn to overcome this initial set-up, they will be forever on the defensive.( Mark Bauerlein) Read More:http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/01/7265/