Next academic year, Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade is offering an MA course on prescriptivism at the University of Leiden. The course, which will be called “Testing Prescriptivism”, is part of the MA track English Language and Linguistics, but is open to other students as well.
Prescription is the final stage in the standardisation process for a language like English or French, and it is followed by what is usually – pejoritatively – referred to as prescriptivism. The prescription stage has produced what are known as usage guides, works like Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1926) which offer advice on the correct usage of forms like taller than I/me, different to/from/than, lie/lay and hundreds of others.
A staple item of usage guides, and one that has become iconic of the concept of prescriptivism, is the split infinitive, as in to boldly go where no man has gone before, but despite nearly two hundred years of adverse comment, the construction is more alive than ever. So are usage guides fighting a losing battle? And is this why they are produced in ever increasing numbers, in Britain as well as the US?
In this course we will study the phenomenon of the usage guide from a historical as well as a sociolinguistic perspective, and we will do so withing the context of the research project Bridging the Unbridgeable. Drawing on the HUGE database that has been developed for the purpose of doing research on the topic, and making use of linguistic corpora like the British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English (as well as the Corpus of Historical American English) we will study the effect of nearly 250 years of prescriptivism on the English language.
The primary focus of the course is on English. But since prescriptivism is an issue in other language as much as in English – Dutch, French, Russian … – students with a background in other languages will be particularly welcome too, as this will enable us to take a comparative approach to this highly topical subject.
For further information, see Masters in Leiden, click on Literature and Linguistics, and then on Linguistics.