OUPblog has a Very Short Introductions (VSI) series that “combines a small format with authoritative analysis,” and a recent entry is Challenges of the social life of language by John Edwards, a sociolinguist and editor of the Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. He lists ten ideas that he thinks people should be more aware of, and most of them, while presenting no surprises to LH readers (“Languages and dialects are not the same thing,” “There are no ‘incorrect’ or ‘illogical’ dialects,” etc.), are well worth publicizing. I did find #3, “Everyone is (at least) bilingual,” strange; while it’s true that “there are no easy measures by which to differentiate bilingual (or multilingual) speakers from their monolingual counterparts,” the tagline summary is just silly. But one statement in #8 “Linguistic prescriptivism and purism arise from the belief that corrections, improvements, or protections are needed to safeguard languages” is not just wrong but dangerously wrong: “Yet every maker of a dictionary must be a prescriptivist.” Not so! Fortunately, the invaluable Kory Stamper, lexicographer sans peur et sans reproche, has a post called “A Compromise: How To Be A Reasonable Prescriptivist” that addresses this very issue:
Here is why we were all in a lather over those articles [by Joan Acocella; see here]: “descriptivist” is not a slur, and neither is “prescriptivist” a title of honor (or vice versa). They are merely terms that describe two approaches to analyzing language use. They are not linguistic matter and anti-matter, and when brought together, they will not destroy the universe in a cataclysm of bombast and “ain’t”s. Good descriptivism involves a measure of prescriptivism, and good prescriptivism involves a measure of descriptivism. What good is a dictionary that enters “irregardless” but neglects to tell you that it’s not accepted as standard English? And how good is a usage and style guide that merely parrots rules with no careful consideration for the historical record of edited prose, or whether this rule does indeed produce clearer, cleaner writing?
There, isn’t that sensible? As is, of course, the entire post; go read it. (I’ll warn you in advance, though, that the comment thread contains the usual contentious know-nothing remarks from the usual sort of pigheaded commenter, in this case going by the nom de guerre “calitri.”)