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Archive for August 2nd, 2011

A prescriptivist confronts Twitter — and blinks

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If you teach writing for a living, you tread that fine line between prescriptivism and descriptivism. A prescriptivist (which, sadly, I lean toward) is one who harrumphs over a misplaced apostrophe (even when meaning is quite clear) and tells people how language ought to be used according to her strict interpretations of the language’s rules of the road. Think William Safire.

A descriptivist views language as it is written, as it develops, without the harrumph, harrumph. She systematically studies linguistic change and records it without comment.

I raise the issue — to harrumph or not to harrumph — because I recently harrumphed … a lot. One of my graduates, who is distinguishing himself in his first newspaper job, is tweeting his stories at light speed to promote them. As you know, tweets are capped at 140 characters. So Twitterati tend to use shorthand, abbreviations, and other things about which I have no clue to express a thought. Frankly, to me most tweets I see represent a lack of planning on what to say and how to say it. But I have to teach journalism students how to wisely use Twitter. So it’s my prescriptivism versus their linguistic inventions and generational conventions.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 2, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized