Last month, the proprietor of the excellent language blog bulbulovo began (part 1, part 2) a series of posts about the Slovník súčasného slovenského jazyka (SSSJ), “the first comprehensive (a.k.a. ‘large-sized’) dictionary of the Slovak language ever,” whose first volume has just been published. His latest post, though labeled as part of the SSSJ series, is actually a long and fascinating analysis of the history and current state of Standard Slovak, and what that phrase (and the Slovak sort-of-equivalent spisovná slovenčina) can be taken to mean. I’m going to resist the temptation to excerpt huge hunks of it, and just quote a bit dealing with the issue of prescriptivism:
You see, although the long war is finally over and we are finally independent (whatever that’s worth), some linguists still fight for the purity of Slovak not so much for linguistic reasons, but for political ones: borrowings from Czech are therefore shunned altogether, because /insert_history_lesson_here/. Latin roots and words, on the other hand, are OK even if we have perfectly good native words to use in their stead, because Latin does not carry any negative political connotations and is generally considered cool (see Geoffrey Pullum’s “Classicism”). Those same linguists fail to understand that, to use a metaphor, Slovak is no longer a proprietary project. It’s been open-sourced for at least 60 years. It’s a child that has grown up long ago and no longer needs protection. And yet, some still insist it wear a coat when going outside even in May and some others even try to forbid it to stay out after 10pm and date that cute tall kid that just moved in next door. People like that suffer from a dangerous delusion: they believe they can actually control a living thing like a language (and, for that matter, its speakers). To them, codification is not a completed process, but something they can repeat over and over again. Moreover, they detest any behavior they do not approve of and either try to pretend it does not exist, or, worse, claim that any action (words or phrases or usage) not conforming to their expectations is an aberration and should be swiftly and decidedly suppressed. And what’s worse, some people actually buy all of that crap…
[After quoting an absurd statement by professor Ábel Kráľ:] In other words, to hell with the speakers and their silly ideas of communication effectiveness and intelligibility! Who the hell do they think they are? Who died and made them the custodians of Slovak? Screw them, we have a system to maintain! They will eat what we cook and serve them and they will LIKE IT!
My friends, seldom have I heard a more fitting description of prescriptivism and no one has ever summed up the attitude of certain Slovak linguists to their language and her speakers better than this.
I hope this whets your appetite for the whole thing; it’s the best and most impassioned discussion of the concept of “correctness” in language and what’s wrong with it that I’ve read in a long time.