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Poll: Dictionaries (7 member(s) have cast votes)

Of what nature do you prefer your dictionaries?

  1. Prescriptivist (3 votes [42.86%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 42.86%

  2. Descriptivist (4 votes [57.14%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 57.14%

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#1 *Anastasia

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Posted 06 February 2016 - 05:40 PM

The French Academy's recent decision to butcher the French language led me into a discussion last night about the role of dictionaries in the English language. For those who don't know, dictionaries are often categorized into one of two groups: descriptivist dictionaries seek to chronicle language how it's used, while prescriptivist dictionaries seek to set a standard for language, determine what is and is not correct usage (and sometimes spelling) for a given word.

These categories are not absolute. The Oxford English Dictionary is perhaps the prime example of the confusion the role of dictionaries can cause in society. The OED is often held up as the authoritative dictionary of the (British) English language, and is commonly seen as a resource which may be used to settle disputes over the proper usage of that tongue. Nevertheless, the OED is a descriptivist dictionary, and will include new words, and new definitions of existing words, provided there are credible examples of their common use. Further complicating matters are the OED's preference for -ize over -ise, despite the latter being the far more common suffix in use in British English, and thus the one a purely descriptivist dictionary would normally be assumed to favor.

The discussion I was having on these topics was with someone who was appalled at the thought that dictionaries should include definitions she felt incorrect or illiterate, just because they were in common use. One of the examples she cited was the inclusion in certain dictionaries, including the hallowed OED, of an alternate definition for the word "literally" to reflect its recent use, especially among youth, as a hyperbolic descriptor, where its use certainly does not reflect a literal truth.

On the whole, I tend to agree with this prescriptivist view. Although I accept that all languages naturally evolve, in my mind that evolution is only positive when it results in a more robust language. As new words are coined or develop to refer to advances in society, a language is strengthened by the use of new words to refer to new concepts, and I certainly see the need for the eventual inclusion of new words in dictionaries. However, I nevertheless feel that words have value only when they have meaning. In the example of "literally", the word's original meaning serves a purpose: it conveys that what you are expressing in the context you use it should be taken at face value. But if "literally" can also mean the exact opposite, then I as a listener need some other contextual indication for how the person using the word intends her phrase to be understood, and the word's inclusion in that phrase serves no purpose except to pad it out with unnecessary syllables.

I also see the value in descriptivism; however, I don't see it being value at the present, but in the future. Let's be frank: in most cases, a new word or definition being added to the dictionary is worth more as a news headline or a topic for pundits like me to rant about than it is as a dictionary entry. The sorts of people who are going to use "literally" hyperbolically already know it's used that way, and aren't going to care whether a dictionary gives its blessing to their linguistic faux pas. Those who suspect the word is being used incorrectly are also unlikely to ever look it up, because they already know its older definition, and can surmise, as a result, that its hyperbolic use is simply that of ignorant people using it incorrectly based off that existing definition, regardless of whether they accept that usage as correct or not.

The value I see in descriptivism, then, is that given to future generations. A hundred, two hundred, three hundred years from now, when—like it or not—the English language will have evolved well beyond how it is used today, the records of our existence left behind for future generations to examine will be written, recorded, or otherwise preserved in the vernacular we use today. If contemporary dictionaries only chronicle language in its narrowest, most "correct" form, the value of the words we use today may end up being lost. By chronicling the English language as it is used, we offer to our descendants the ability to examine the literary masterpieces, the historical records, and even the graffiti we create today as it was meant to be consumed.

So I pose to you, Invictae: how do you like your dictionaries?



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#2 He who posts

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Posted 06 February 2016 - 05:47 PM

descriptivist. Prescriptivist would be a school book.

#3 Lord Draculea

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Posted 06 February 2016 - 06:49 PM

This is in fact a debate about tradition vs. innovation. A purely descriptive or prescriptive dictionary would make no sense. I can't make a definite choice. They are both needed.



#4 Redezra

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Posted 07 February 2016 - 08:38 AM

Language is a journey, not a destination. Descriptivist it is :D



#5 He who posts

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Posted 07 February 2016 - 09:04 AM

Dictionaries can be useful when doing historic research I think as it displays the words used at that time and what they meant when it was printed. Doctoring it to something so only words you want to stay in a language nicely fits with the language genocide the French have always loved.

#6 Lord Draculea

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Posted 07 February 2016 - 10:44 AM

I think it is a false dilemma. Any dictionary is both descriptive and prescriptiv, it's just a mater of accent. After all, if you describe something, you implicitly prescribe how it should be used, and on the other hand you can't prescribe anything without a prior description.

#7 ᗅᗺᗷᗅ

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Posted 07 February 2016 - 11:35 AM

Languages are living things; they change and evolve. Any attempt to rigidly codify them is a fool's errand.



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#8 the rebel

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Posted 07 February 2016 - 02:24 PM

Languages are living things; they change and evolve. Any attempt to rigidly codify them is a fool's errand.


Or if you're American you butcher the English language. "What are all these vowels doing here? Get rid, get rid I say!"

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#9 Lord Draculea

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Posted 07 February 2016 - 02:51 PM



#10 KiWi

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Posted 07 February 2016 - 06:02 PM

Both are necessary and vitally important.

As a rule/I would lean towards Prescriptivist for dictionaries (esp ones I use). And my own (native, immersed, slang slanted) understanding can be Descriptive, and later historians/archives of bloggers can be used to chronical how people use language. Esp how it eventually develops.

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#11 He who posts

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Posted 07 February 2016 - 06:23 PM

I speak a tiny disappearing dialect that uses a few old Dutch words. I also shorten words a lot because that's what we do here. Was pretty funny when I had to travel a decent distance to school, I had to explain things that were pretty common to me.



#12 Lord Draculea

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Posted 20 February 2016 - 02:48 AM

Or perhaps you'd like to try out this one? I'll be honest with you, I took the author's advice: gave up...  :(

 



#13 He who posts

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Posted 20 February 2016 - 08:47 AM

Generally if I don't know if my shit makes sense. I settle for the sentence that make no sense because that is how English works.

#14 Lord Draculea

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Posted 21 February 2016 - 02:36 AM

Well, in some aspects English is quite friendly, you know...  :P

 

MfoN3dK.jpg



#15 He who posts

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Posted 21 February 2016 - 04:04 AM

Bit to friendly to get some points across.

#16 ᗅᗺᗷᗅ

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Posted 23 February 2016 - 04:48 PM

English's great strengths are its flexibility and huge (YOOOGE) vocabulary, far bigger than most other languages. These allow English speakers to convey detail and shades of meaning that other languages lack. It is also, despite its weird spelling, pretty concise. For example, the next time you are someplace where they have signs in English and Spanish, notice how many more words it takes to convey the same meaning in Spanish. Use of helping verbs (instead of changing the root word to modify it) and lack of gender help a lot too.

 

I speak a tiny disappearing dialect that uses a few old Dutch words.

 

What language do you speak, Xoindotnler? Frisian?



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#17 He who posts

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Posted 23 February 2016 - 05:00 PM

Frisian is a language not a dialect.


Edited by xoindotnler, 23 February 2016 - 05:01 PM.


#18 ᗅᗺᗷᗅ

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Posted 23 February 2016 - 05:03 PM

*sigh*

 

Fine. What dialect do you speak?



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#19 Lord Draculea

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Posted 24 February 2016 - 09:00 AM

I was surpised to discover on "Effective Language Learning" that Romanian is ranked among the top 10 least difficult languages to learn as an English speaker. It is included in the category of "Languages closely related to English", together with Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, French, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. German comes only in the second category, as a "language similar to English"... The site gives a ranking system on five categories, from "closely related" to "exceptionally difficult" (the last one including Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean). Frankly, this came as a surprise to me!

#20 He who posts

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Posted 24 February 2016 - 10:02 AM

*sigh*

 

Fine. What dialect do you speak?

Could link to a wiki page, if it had one, which it doesn't.




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