GRAMMAR WORLD | PRESCRIPTIVISM AND DESCRIPTIVISM BETWEEN LEARNERS AND TEACHERS OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
By Moshood Alabi
Langue and Parole that developed into Linguistic competence and performance as stated by the linguists Ferdinand De Saussure and Noam Chomsky respectively are easily understood when read in a book than when being practiced. The two notions center on two major stages in language learning and usage. The former is concerned with the rules and conventions regarding the combination of sounds and words to form phrases, clauses and sentences while the latter is about the usage of those conventions. Grammar grows faster and that is why it is becoming more complex, but what we learn in schools grow like a stagnant water. This is why users and learners face the challenges of PRESCRIPTIVISM and DESCRIPTIVISM all the time. It is not an overstatement to say that it is becoming a perpetual challenge.
What is PRESCRIPTIVISM? Well, I can say that a clear picture of the word comes to you as soon as you remember that medical jargon PRESCRIPTION. As the doctor prescribes some drugs after diagnosis, a language authority also prescribes some sets of grammar rules that the user must not violate and must not question too. Most classroom English lessons are based on the prescriptive grammar. These rules do not give exceptions to the spoken English in some situations. It is rigid and not flexible.
An alternative study is the DESCRIPTIVISM. The descriptive grammar states that grammar rules should be applied based on what we say and not according to what we should say.
This is the challenge of the learners and the teachers. There is a conflict between the TRADITIONAL GRAMMAR and the MODERN GRAMMAR. As teachers, are we expected to teach traditional or modern grammar? As a learner, how do we differentiate the two grammars?
How can we react to questions like these when students can read something different in books, and hear something different in what people say?
- Who did you see?✖️
Whom did you see?✔️
- I want you to please help me✖️
I want you to help me.✔️
- I will be a year older tomorrow.✖️
I shall be a year older tomorrow.✔️
- The two boys love one another✖️
The two boys love each other✔️
The examples above are few of the examples of the expressions that confuse the users.
In the first example, the relative pronoun WHO is traditionally used as the subject while the pronoun WHOM functions as the object.
Users become confused when they read in books or hear from people that people often use the pronoun WHO to represent both the subject and the object.
Teachers are asked many questions and the response, most times, does not convince the learners.
In the second example, a case of SPLIT INFINITIVE has been demonstrated. I don’t know how far I will go to correct users that split infinitive is not a grammatical error. Some examination bodies even categorized split infinitive as one of the errors to be studied in a grammar course. I have taught that several times and afterwards telling the students: “That’s what is stated in your curriculum.” When are we going to practice what we preach as teachers?
In the second set, the two expressions are correct.
The third example is the problem of the use of SHALL and WILL. In the classroom, SHALL is used with the first person for futurity while the modal auxiliary verb WILL is used in all situations in the modern American English usage. That is a conflict of usage and confusion for the learners.
It is fixed that the reciprocal pronoun EACH OTHER represents TWO while ONE ANOTHER represents more than two. Modern grammar has extended the use of ONE ANOTHER to two and above.
What is the essence of all these discussions?
I need to establish something important for the learners of the English Language. Learners of English! Can you listen to me? Your purpose of learning the English Language determines what you are to learn. If you are learning the English Language for interactive reasons, the prescriptive and the descriptive grammars are good for you. If you are learning English for examination purpose, prescriptive grammar should be your match. Every learner and teacher should know this and apply it. I rest my case here.
Ballard. K.(2016) The Frameworks of English. NewYork: Palgrave
Denham.K (2018) Linguistics for Everyone. United States: Wadsworth
Finnegan.E.(2016) Language Its structure and use. United States: Thomson Wadsworth
Fromkin.V.(2018) An Introduction to Language. United Kingdom: Thomson Wadsworth