In order to do this, I need to introduce <a href=""></a> another problematic opposition, that between description and prescription

Codification versus prescription

Whilst, as we have seen, many linguists-including Haugen-have apparently used codification and prescription as quasi-synonyms, here I argue that they should be differentiated.

Curzan observes that the LSA guidelines for non-sexist usage Footnote 10 represent this last type of prescriptivism, as in the following extract:

In our terms, codification is a neutral term, which refers to the production of grammars, dictionaries and other types of metalinguistic works, and is thus equivalent to Auroux’s grammatisation. Codification may result in the production of either descriptive or prescriptive works. Descriptive texts are based on the descriptive norm; starting from the ‘facts’ or with usage, they describe what is ‘normal’, ‘regular’ or ‘frequent’ in language usage, without making a value judgment about it. Footnote 6 The prescriptive ‘norm’ on the other hand is more subjective: here one thinks of an ideal model; the norm prescribes what should be said, or more usually written, based on value judgments (Figure 1). Footnote 7 The prescriptive norm is typically based on the descriptive norm, that is, it often begins with the observation of usage, but then a notion of what is right and wrong, correct and incorrect, is added. Joseph (1987: 18) thus concludes that ‘the prescriptive–descriptive dichotomy-or better, continuum-reduces essentially to the matter of conscious value judgment’. Other such as Trask (1999: 246) define prescriptivism as ‘the imposition of arbitrary norms upon a language, often in defiance of normal usage’ (emphasis added), thereby challenging the connection between the descriptive and prescriptive norm.

Moreover, prescriptivism has traditionally received a bad press; as Cameron (1995: 5) observes, it ‘represents the threatening Other, the forbidden; it is a spectre that haunts linguistics’. Larry Trask in his Key concepts in language and linguistics (1999) is more acerbic in his condemnation of prescriptivism in his entry on descriptivism:

The policy of describing languages as they are found to exist. Footnote 8 A prominent feature of traditional grammar is the frequent presence of prescriptivism: identifying and recommending forms and usages favoured by the analyst and condemning others not favoured by the analyst. Excepting only in certain educational contexts, modern linguists utterly reject prescriptivism, and their investigations are based instead upon descriptivism. […] Descriptivism is a central tenet of what we regard as a scientific approach to the study of language: the very first requirement in any scholarly investigation is to get the facts right. Prescriptivism, in great contrast, is not a scientific approach. The strong opinions of prescriptivists may be variously regarded as recommendations about good style, as an aspect of social mores, as a consequence of our educational system, or perhaps even as a matter of morality, but they are not statements about actual behaviour, and hence they are not scientific.

Trask, then, goes so far as to argue that prescriptivism should not be part of linguistics. As Milroy and Milroy note (1991: 5), linguists have often studied language as if prescriptive phenomena play no part in language. Yet, as they go on to argue (1991: 9), if we are going to have a rounded picture of the nature of language, we cannot overlook its social functions and characteristics, which include understanding standardisation, questions of prestige, attitudes to language, or what Cameron calls ‘verbal hygiene’ which she considers a natural part of human behaviour. Footnote 9

In other accounts, some types of prescriptivism appear to be more acceptable to linguists than others. Curzan (2014: 24) identifies four overlapping strands of institutionalised prescriptivism: ‘standardizing prescriptivism’ (policing the boundaries of the standard); ‘stylistic prescriptivism’ (differentiating among points of style within standard usage); ‘restorative prescriptivism’ (turning to older forms to purify usage); and ‘politically responsive prescriptivism’ (politically correct language).