23 min

Descriptivism and Prescriptivism Fiat Lex: A Dictionary Podcast

    • Education

If "irregardless" isn't a real word, then why the hell is it in my dictionary?!? It's a matter of philosophy. Steve and Kory give a primer on descriptivism and prescriptivism, two approaches to describing language, and how modern dictionaries are descriptivist (which is exactly the opposite of what everyone believes). They recap the culture wars of the 1960s, which gave rise to the American Heritage Dictionary; discuss the AHD Usage Panel and what it does; lament the state of modern dictionary marketing; and gab extensively about where people can get themselves some of that sweet, sweet prescriptivism they long for. 
BONUS FEATURES:- Kory and Steve offer to stage-fight at your conference; - Steve introduces you to the best dictionary marketing video known to humanity (and YOU ARE MOST WELCOME); - Steve amazes Kory w/r/t Romanian; - Stamper Mispronunciation Rundown: "biases"
TRANSCRIPT BELOW:
----more----
Kory:                     Hi, I'm Kory Stamper
Steve:                   and I'm Steve Kleinedler.
Kory:                     and welcome to Fiat Lex,
Steve:                   a podcast about dictionaries by people who write them.
Kory:                     That would be us. So last episode, we talked a little bit about how words get into dictionaries and how dictionaries are written, but we wanted to sort of backtrack and give you an underlying philosophical basis for how modern dictionaries are written.
Steve:                   Right. And one of those perceptions that are held by the public who pay attention to the brand of dictionary, which we-- admittedly is a small subset of people who actually use reference works. Is this distinction, this dichotomy that doesn't really exist between, for example, the American Heritage Dictionary and Merriam-Webster's.
Kory:                     Mm-hmm. So lots of people assume that we are mortal enemies. That American Heritage and Merriam Webster, we are competitors. We have always been set up mostly by our marketing departments and other people as direct competitors. But, in fact, we are not really direct competitors of each other. That's just been something that has been sort of formulated because of this philosophical difference that we're going to talk about.
Steve:                   And also, the editors at the different companies -- we're all colleagues, most of us belong to the same learned societies such as the Dictionary Society of North America, where we meet together with much conviviality -- we're friends, Kory's my friend.
Kory:                     And Steve is my friend.
Steve:                   And even though we keep threatening to attend conferences and stage fake duels, with the weaponry that Kory has assembled, we have not yet done this. We may do it someday.
Kory:                     Let us know. Let us know if you want us to come to your conferences, stage a fight
Steve:                   We'll stage a fight or we'll just do a normal q and a section. And with this, this, this, this frame of reference that there is somehow this distinction is borne out of a concept of prescriptivism versus descriptivism.
Kory:                     Right? So let's just define terms very loosely. Prescriptivism and descriptivism are these two approaches to language that are common in modern linguistics.
Steve:                   A prescriptive approach is one that claims there is a right and wrong. There are rules that prescribe how one should use English or any language properly.
Kory:                     Right. And descriptivism is the idea that all languages, all varieties of a language are an equal

If "irregardless" isn't a real word, then why the hell is it in my dictionary?!? It's a matter of philosophy. Steve and Kory give a primer on descriptivism and prescriptivism, two approaches to describing language, and how modern dictionaries are descriptivist (which is exactly the opposite of what everyone believes). They recap the culture wars of the 1960s, which gave rise to the American Heritage Dictionary; discuss the AHD Usage Panel and what it does; lament the state of modern dictionary marketing; and gab extensively about where people can get themselves some of that sweet, sweet prescriptivism they long for. 
BONUS FEATURES:- Kory and Steve offer to stage-fight at your conference; - Steve introduces you to the best dictionary marketing video known to humanity (and YOU ARE MOST WELCOME); - Steve amazes Kory w/r/t Romanian; - Stamper Mispronunciation Rundown: "biases"
TRANSCRIPT BELOW:
----more----
Kory:                     Hi, I'm Kory Stamper
Steve:                   and I'm Steve Kleinedler.
Kory:                     and welcome to Fiat Lex,
Steve:                   a podcast about dictionaries by people who write them.
Kory:                     That would be us. So last episode, we talked a little bit about how words get into dictionaries and how dictionaries are written, but we wanted to sort of backtrack and give you an underlying philosophical basis for how modern dictionaries are written.
Steve:                   Right. And one of those perceptions that are held by the public who pay attention to the brand of dictionary, which we-- admittedly is a small subset of people who actually use reference works. Is this distinction, this dichotomy that doesn't really exist between, for example, the American Heritage Dictionary and Merriam-Webster's.
Kory:                     Mm-hmm. So lots of people assume that we are mortal enemies. That American Heritage and Merriam Webster, we are competitors. We have always been set up mostly by our marketing departments and other people as direct competitors. But, in fact, we are not really direct competitors of each other. That's just been something that has been sort of formulated because of this philosophical difference that we're going to talk about.
Steve:                   And also, the editors at the different companies -- we're all colleagues, most of us belong to the same learned societies such as the Dictionary Society of North America, where we meet together with much conviviality -- we're friends, Kory's my friend.
Kory:                     And Steve is my friend.
Steve:                   And even though we keep threatening to attend conferences and stage fake duels, with the weaponry that Kory has assembled, we have not yet done this. We may do it someday.
Kory:                     Let us know. Let us know if you want us to come to your conferences, stage a fight
Steve:                   We'll stage a fight or we'll just do a normal q and a section. And with this, this, this, this frame of reference that there is somehow this distinction is borne out of a concept of prescriptivism versus descriptivism.
Kory:                     Right? So let's just define terms very loosely. Prescriptivism and descriptivism are these two approaches to language that are common in modern linguistics.
Steve:                   A prescriptive approach is one that claims there is a right and wrong. There are rules that prescribe how one should use English or any language properly.
Kory:                     Right. And descriptivism is the idea that all languages, all varieties of a language are an equal

23 min

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