Bridging the unbridgeable: linguists, prescriptivists and the general public
09 / 2011 - 12 / 2016
Usage guides are a controversial topic among linguists because of their function to present a norm of correctness to whoever wishes to consult them. Linguistics as a discipline, however, is concerned with describing rather than prescribing usage. Nevertheless, usage guides are extremely popular with the general public, and even increasingly so despite centuries of prescriptivism. This project seeks to close the gap between the three main players in the field of prescriptivism: the linguists themselves, the prescriptivists (as writers of usage guides) and those who depend upon such manuals. It will do so by compiling a database of usage guides and usage problems that will be of use to all concerned, including the direct participants in the project. Focussing primarily on British and American English, two PhD students will study attitudes to current usage problems and, using state-of-the-art usage corpora, compare them to actual usage. A third PhD student will study attitudes to usage in traditional media, such as newspapers, but also on the internet, to discover new usage problems as well to answer the question of how and why such problems arise. A monograph will be written by the principal applicant in which the usage guide is dealt with in its full historical and present-day detail.