Some people believe that language should be managed or engineered. That is to say, new words should be created, wrong usages should be rectified, etc.

On the contrary, some others believe that a language is the way it is used by people, and that we should let it evolve the way it does by its public usage.

What are these two views called?

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    Some people believe that language can be managed or engineered. They are misinformed; one can stigmatize parts of language and approve other parts, but the speech community makes all the decisions. You're probly looking for the "prescriptive/descriptive" distinction, but that's not really a distinction. There aren't two sides -- there are facts, and there are those who deny the facts; that isn't really a balanced synthesis.
    – jlawler
    Commented May 12, 2021 at 20:58
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    Yes, as JLawler says, you're after the term descriptive linguistics for the latter. And also, as he says the former type is not linguistics, not science and not defensible. It's superstition, misunderstanding and low level bigotry. Commented May 12, 2021 at 21:43
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    The term 'prescriptivist' essentially hinges on there being a final arbiter of the language in question. The French have tried to impose one, but as usual the other French voted with their feet. In English, while OED freely admits that 'inclusion in OED' and 'wordness' don't overlap anywhere near completely, there is a certain grammar some of whose devotees seem to regard as sacrosanct. 'Descriptivism' means recording (and essentially holding up as an example of practice to be followed) what is observed in practice. But this also fails because of skewed sampling, conflicts wrt acceptability... Commented May 16, 2021 at 18:57

1 Answer 1


What you are thinking of is the difference between prescriptive linguistics and descriptive linguistics. Descriptive linguistics is all about what people use (how people talk, how they write, how many loops go on this letter, what they feel sounds correct, etc.). Prescriptive linguistics is when someone comes in (often a teacher) and decides what correct language is and is not.

According to the article What Is 'Correct' Language? from the Linguistic Society of America:

Descriptive grammarians ask the question, "What is English (or another language) like—what are its forms and how do they function in various situations?" By contrast, prescriptive grammarians ask "What should English be like—what forms should people use and what functions should they serve?" Prescriptivists follow the tradition of the classical grammars of Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin, which aimed to preserve earlier forms of those languages so that readers in subsequent generations could understand sacred texts....

A general rule of thumb is that if you are seeing discussion of "right" and "wrong" vocabulary, grammar, prosody, etc., in the context of some people using language the "wrong" way, then you are dealing with a prescriptive linguist. Descriptive linguists don't deal with "right" and "wrong", they deal with "what people actually use" and "what people don't use".

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    But 'what people actually use' glosses over the issue of constructions, candidate words etc that some people 'accept' (ie are prepared to use) and others don't. Any attempt to be hyperprescriptive or hyperdescriptive is doomed to failure. That leaves the middle ground, which is merely impossibly complex. Commented May 16, 2021 at 19:03
  • @EdwinAshworth I think your two comments, when elaborated in the form of an answer, would give good clarification to the subject matter.
    – Sasan
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 11:40

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