This talk engages the phenomenon of prescriptivism – efforts by institutionally or self-appointed guardians of English to constrain, discourage, or repair usages deemed broken, unseemly, or in violation of (putative) rules of English. The "unusual ferocity" aroused by such usages among prescriptivists has been often observed (Williams 1985), as has their willingness to refer, with odd strenuousness, to disgust, shame, horror, and violence in objecting to this or that word or accent or turn of phrase. Such ferocity belies a lack of meaningful consensus over which rules, if any, such usages could be said to break (and indeed whether a language could even be said to be "breakable" at all).
Contemporary investigations into prescriptivist tendencies reveal their deep influence on perceptions of ability, authority, and trustworthiness as well as how such tendencies have infiltrated widely used word-processing programs; in light of calls for linguistic justice and antiracist language teaching and assessment, the need to counter such influences is critical. Yet these investigations have struggled to advance beyond a resigned conclusion that the urge to monitor and correct others’ languaging practices is both universal and perennial. Construing language policing as natural leaves us with no strategies (apart from dismayed forbearance) for engaging nonlinguists’ often-vitriolic responses to language variation; worse, it normalizes the behavior while missing opportunities to find productive outlets for humans’ curiosity about language and language difference. To those ends, I draw together insights from applied linguistics, pragmatics, and linguistic anthropology to hypothesize the cultural mechanism that transmogrifies this curiosity into vitriol and to offer some strategies for deauthorizing and demotivating the language vigilantes among us.
This event is open to the DePaul Community and is sponsored by the Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse Department. Register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/disarming-the-language-police-with-dylan-b-dryer-tickets-148923810125
Tuesday, May 4 at 4:30pm to 6:00pmVirtual Event