Inner Prescriptivism

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sun Dec 4 21:29:06 UTC 2005

And by the way, any teacher who secretly prefers the literature of DWEMs while ridiculing it to unwary students is a disgusting hypocrite.

  Ooooh, I'm sorry !  I meant "another brave survivor fighting heroically to rid her- or himself of the cultural brainwashing of the past."


"Dennis R. Preston" <preston at MSU.EDU> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "Dennis R. Preston"

Subject: Re: Inner Prescriptivism

Since all sociolinguists know (as apparently some others ignore) that
language is a major key to your own and others' identity (with all
the sociodemographic baggage that "identity" carries), I assume it
would be impossible when linguists are behaving as real people for
them not to have many of the associations, prejudices, and so on that
mere mortals do.

I freely confess to an inner shudder at a /j/ in "coupon" and a
"harrrumphing" at "disinterested" (in the incorrect sense, of
course), but my analytic brain can quickly put aside (although not
erase) my more visceral one. (Some of you may not like "visceral

I'm pretty sure such a study would reveal just such preferences among
nearly all of us; I'm not sure the findings would lead to the same
cynical conclusion that the discovery of a closet preference for dead
white European male authors does. If I found an application of my
preferences in practice (grading, even evaluating others in
short-term acquaintance), I would worry. I have only my introspection
of my practices to go on, but I find myself, and I suspect most other
linguists, pretty clean.


>Jesse Sheidlower just referred in a posting to his "inner prescriptivist."
>I notice that it is not uncommon for linguists and lexicographers on this
>list to criticize pet-peeve linguistic usages, contrary to the usual
>descriptivist ideology of linguistic scholars. I wonder whether there
>have ever been any studies done of closet prescriptivism among linguists.
>(I did see a study a few years ago revealing that members of the UCLA
>English Department, in their own private reading for pleasure, actually
>preferred the literature of dead white European males.)
>Fred Shapiro
>Fred R. Shapiro Editor
>Associate Librarian for Collections and YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
> Access and Lecturer in Legal Research Yale University Press,
>Yale Law School forthcoming
>e-mail: fred.shapiro at

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
15-C Morrill Hall
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1036
Phone: (517) 353-4736
Fax: (517) 353-3755
preston at

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