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Correct American

Should road signs read Drive Slow or Drive Slowly? On this, there are two schools of thought.

Descriptivists say that depends on who wrote it.

Prescriptivists say look it up!

The Decline of Grammar
Geoffrey Nunberg makes an impassioned plea for civility among grammarians when assessing language use.

Who's Minding the Gates?
Language gatekeepers, often self appointed, try to manage how we speak.

Beastly Mispronunciations
People say the darndest things.

city skyline

videoThe State of American
Theater critic John Simon and the OED's Jesse Sheidlower weigh in.

Linguist Edward Finegan of the University of Southern California looks at the debate over "correct" American by describing how the two main schools of thought about language  - descriptivism and prescriptivism  - differ:

Descriptive grammarians ask the question, "What is English (or another language) like? What are its forms and how do they function in various situations?" By contrast, prescriptive grammarians ask, "What should English be like? What forms should people use and what functions should they serve?" Prescriptivists follow the tradition of the classical grammars of Sanskrit, Greek and Latin, which aimed to preserve earlier forms of those languages so that readers in subsequent generations could understand sacred texts and historical documents. Modern descriptivists aim to describe rather than prescribe linguistic forms and their uses. Dictionary makers also strive for descriptive accuracy in reporting which words are in use and which senses they carry.

Who's Right?

So what is right and wrong in language, and who decides? Finegan suggests that the real issue may actually be one of deciding who wields power and who doesn't.
Read Essay

Check out these Grammar Hotlines!

Sponsored by:

National Endowment for the Humanities Hewlett Foundation Ford Foundation   Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Carnegie Corporation

National Endowment
for the Humanities

William and Flora Hewlett
Foundation

Ford
Foundation

Rosalind P.
Walter

Arthur Vining
Davis Foundations

Carnegie
Corporation of New York