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Alice Pugh. The Emergence of Prescriptive Attitudes

 

 Yearning for Linguistic Guidance

 

Portrait of Samuel Pepys by J. Hayls, 1666

 

Between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Britain saw a huge increase in the numbers of regional speakers, (Crystal 2005:368) this could be another reason why the committee formed and prescriptive attitudes rose.  These numbers were made up of the emerging middle class from the Industrial Revolution. More people at this time were becoming literate, by 1700 it is estimated half of men and a quarter of all women could read and write (Crystal 2005:369). Prescriptivism would have emerged more so because of this, although more people could read and write many of the literary world would have worried about the incorrect use of the language.  Before this time there was a clear divide between those who were literate and those who were not, the upper and lower classes. As the divide narrowed within society and class, the divide narrowed also between who was learning the language.  Many of the upper classes who worried about the changes in equality would have worried about the degeneration of English society and the English Language.   

Those who followed Dryden and his theories on restoring the English language would have been influenced by the political unrest but also the social problems that had stacked up over the years. The cost of living had risen dramatically as too the population between 1550 and 1650 the population doubled to 5 million.  Urban life was spreading to the countryside, everything in the economy seemed to be growing.  The figures are overwhelming and the change in social structure would have been noticeable and to some scary.  Many would have been scared to loose their known culture and lifestyle, part of this included the English language. Order in England and the language was seen as necessary.  

In the late seventeenth and eighteenth century social constraints were still in the form of etiquette, new booklets and pamphlets were aimed at the lower classes moving into the new middle class.  These booklets, such as ‘The Gentleman’s Calling’ (1660) contained information on how to behave correctly, address one another and be polite.  Being correct and polite caused people to be very uncertain of what word endings to use or the correct tensed verb to use.  There were linguistic consequences of trying to be polite (Crystal 2005:370). 

The social changes with the emerging middle class caused a new emergence of prescriptivism and politeness, however the forceful attempt to correct the language caused in some situations more ambiguity for example in Samuel Pepys's Diary he wrote ‘I did send a cup of tee of which I never drunk before’ (Peppy 1660 cited in Crystal 2005:370), the great onus on being polite caused language like this and confusion.  On the other hand polite people had, before the rise of prescriptive attitudes, been given little guidance linguistically. They took most of there guidance from literature which also had no constraints. Authors were creating new words all the time and in excess, for example the adjective form of discord had six different possible coinages (Crystal 2005:374). 

 

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THE EMERGENCE OF PRESCRIPTIVE ATTITUDES

  The Factor of Competition

  Yearning for Linguistic Guidance

  Looking for the Model

  Fighting a Loosing Battle?

  References and Bibliography

BEST ESSAYS

  The Language of the Internet

  English Reasserts Its Status

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