Volokh on prescriptivism and "assertionism"

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Oct 22 20:32:32 UTC 2011

Eugene Volokh frequently posts style/grammar comments on his blog.
Earlier he commented on wilful vs. willful. Today he posted a follow up
that--like several earlier posts--picks up on an obnoxious comment on
his post.

> Earlier this month, I blogged about assertionism
> [http://goo.gl/WYKC5]-- my label for usage claims that sound like
> prescriptivism, but are actually bare assertions: They don't rely on
> any claims about what the (supposed) Linguistic Authorities say, on
> any detailed logical arguments, or on claims about allegedly superior
> clarity or precision; they just consist of a person's bare assertions.
> And when one asks for evidence supporting the claim, all one gets is
> more bare assertions. Prescriptivists ought to dislike assertionism as
> much as descriptivists do, partly because assertionism often comes
> across as unintentional parody of prescriptivism.
> Here's an interesting example, which started on the wilful vs. willful
> [http://goo.gl/MfLBh] thread. I started my post with, "A student saw
> 'wilful' used in an opinion, and asked whether it was a typo." A
> commenter then responded that the sentence
>>     does not conform to proper English usage. The "whether" indicates
>>     that what follows is speculative, requiring that the verb be
>>     rendered in the subjunctive mood. "Was" is always indicative.
> And the commenter then gave several assertedly "proper renderings of
> the sentence," the first of which was:
>>     A student saw "wilful" used in an opinion, and asked whether it
>>     were a typo.

He then responds to criticism (and responds further in comments).


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list