To communicate across dialectical boundaries.
Originally Posted by riverkid
For example, spelling is prescription pure and simple: it wasn't fixed until the likes of Samuel Johnson and William Shakespeare came along and imposed their personal preferences on us. Why do we write "deign" but "disdain"? Because Johnson wasn't paying attention when he wrote his dictionary, that's why. Why do we write "build" with a U? Because in Johnson's day, English dialects were divided into two broad groups (east and west), and Johnson wanted to reflect both.
Batt knsiddr wotud happn iff wi riternd tu the daze ov raiting az wi pleezd. It wasn't a huge problem when most people were illiterate and official records were kept in Latin, but it would seriously hamper written communication now.
So that's one prescription we would be lost without.
I use descriptions of language use to understand how people communicate, and prescriptions to tell students how to impress prospective employers at job interviews.
Why not use accurate descriptions of language instead of artificial prescriptions, which are after all, mere opinions of how some people want to see language.
The problem is that there are many very well-respected authorities who believe very firmly that prescriptivism is not sadly lacking. They may be wrong, but so might the people on your side of the argument. The appeal to authority is a logical fallacy because you have to prove the authority is actually correct.
You chide me for "an appeal to authority" yet you offer nothing more than "Rewboss".. These are people who have studied language and found prescriptivism to be sadly lacking. And it is and has been sadly lacking.
And the definition of "grammatical" which was offered doesn't match what I have observed in real life. What I offered was not "rewboss" -- I do not consider myself an authority -- but an observation which has yet to be challenged.
According to mykwyner, "a sentence like, 'We ain't never done seen nothing like that there,' is not ungrammatical because every native English speaker knows exactly what it means". I wouldn't argue with that, but in the same post he said that "Shoes myself tied I by" is definitely ungrammatical. But I understood what that sentence means, and I expect you did, too.
Therefore, I suggest that this isn't a helpful distinction. Only complete gibberish (like Foul Ole Ron's catchphrase "Millennium hand and shrimp" in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels) could be described as "ungrammatical".
And large numbers of speakers use double negatives in the way I describe. You can't have not noticed this, surely.
A real rule is one that describes how language is actually used.
Travel a bit, and take a notebook and tape recorder with you.
I would truly like to see some proof for this contention.
What I missed was a comma, which is a pure prescription (what is punctuation if not completely abstract, artificial and arbitrary?); but this caused you to slightly misunderstand my sentence. Let me rephrase:
How would they know if it's perfectly grammatically correct? Are you saying that technical manuals follow different rules of grammar? If so, why are you even arguing with me?
I think you missed a negative somewhere in there, but I believe I get your point. Because I disagree, vehemently, with your example.
If it's perfectly grammatically correct, how would they know it was a typo?
Now let me expand. You contend that nobody uses a double negative to mean a positive. Therefore, by your own reasoning, a sentence like "You should not never..." must be a negative, and can only be interpreted one way. Yet when presented with this sentence, your immediate assumption is that it must be a typo. Why would this be? How, in your opinion, should the sentence be corrected? And why? You seem to be holding two completely contradictory opinions, here: on the one hand, the double negative is perfectly grammatical and has only one possible interpretation; on the other hand, the double negative must have been written in error. Why in error? What's wrong with it? Why can't it stand as it does? Why can't we have double negatives in technical manuals?
My dialect is mainly Oxford English, with some influence from Westcountry and a small helping of Bristolian (a.k.a. "Bristle"). I have often negated negatives, but only ever used double negatives as negatives when imitating certain dialects, such as Mockney. Of course, Westcountry does use double negatives, but it's completely unnatural to me. It was never a part of my idiolect.
Let's get rid of the maybe's and deal in facts. Do all double negatives mean a positive in your dialect of English, Rewboss? What is your dialect of English?
On the contrary: you have frequently said that rules you happen to disagree with are flat out incorrect.
I've never said that one way it correct and others incorrect.
Why lump BrE as one dialect? How's that a reflection of reality?
So don't just tell me, prove it to me for I simply don't believe that what you've said, above, is an accurate representation even of BrE. I may well be mistaken but I need proof, not opinions.
And what "proof" are you looking for? Since about the only thing that might convince you would be something written by Steven Pinker's own hand to the effect of "I was wrong all along, please forgive me", I'm really at a loss here.
Incidentally, the use of a double negative resolving to a positive is so common, there's even a special name for it: litotes.
I know. So why quote him in this context?
I'd like to see you address the issue, Rewboss. Professor Pinker was quite obviously addressing the spoken language.
Standard English is all prescriptions. It is based on certain dialects, but is essentially a completely artificial creation. Standard British English is based on dialects spoken in Oxford and parts of London, where the governing classes were educated, lived and worked. But it is a synthesis of various dialects, primarily Oxford, and is, according to Peter Trudgill, outside of the dialect continuum. That can't have happened by any natural process.
But Standard English is hardly guided by prescriptions.
RP and General American accents are even more obviously artificial. RP particularly was made for the early days of radio, hence the exaggerated vowels.
This is true in a purely psychological sense. However, many dialects have rules which happen to conform to "prescriptive" rules.
Nobody, using language naturally, ever uses prescriptions because as Professor Pinker says, prescriptions are alien to the natural workings of language.
But what makes a prescriptive rule? If I say to my students that the third-person singular form of a regular verb in the present tense takes an S, am I not articulating this rule as a prescription?
So when your students have to write job applications (or technical manuals), what advice do you give them about double negatives?
The trouble comes when people pass on to ESLs and ENLs these artificial "rules".
You don't understand, do you? It's not so much the rules themselves, it's the approach you use.
Take one prescription, just one prescription and show us how it is a "different tool for a different job".
Descriptive approach: "Hmm, that's interesting. Most verbs seem to form the past tense by adding -ed. But there are some other, different, markers used by some of the more common verbs. Ooh, look at 'go': its past tense form seems to have a completely different etymology. And what about these verbs which display no past tense markers at all, like 'set". I suppose native speakers must use other cues. Well, obviously context, but perhaps we should check this out. I wonder if we could devise some sort of test..."
Prescriptive approach: "OK, folks, listen up. To make the past tense of a regular verb, you just add -ed. But I'm afraid there are some irregular verbs you'll have to learn."