Prescriptivism and descriptivism: a study on attitudes towards language

University essay from Luleå tekniska universitet/Språk och kultur

Abstract: The purpose of this study has been to find out whether people, mainly teachers, are prescriptive or descriptive in their attitude towards language, and whether grammar books, dictionaries and textbooks used in schools are in accordance with these attitudes. In order to study this problem a comparison has been made between the results of a linguistic study and the results of a questionnaire distributed to native and non-native speakers. The linguistic study has been based on information taken from grammars and textbooks commonly used in the Swedish compulsory school and at universities. The result shows that people in general are both prescriptive and descriptive in their attitudes towards language. However, a slight majority decided in favor of a descriptive attitude. In the text- and grammar books intended for pupils in the compulsory school system, a very limited number of language varieties are presented. The material used in schools is therefore not sufficient to give the pupils an adequate knowledge in order to meet the goal set up by the National Criteria, which is to reach an all-round communicative ability.