Attitudes to new modes

In this lesson, students will explore new modes of communication such as texting, online chat, and Facebook, which often come in for criticism from people who believe that they are damaging the way we use language.

Goals

Lesson Plan

The teacher explains that today, we will explore descriptive and prescriptive views of linguistics, in relation to new modes of communication. 

Here are some common complaints about online language:

Opinions like these are often described as belonging to a prescriptive view. People who take a prescriptive view of language often tell us how they think we should talk or write. An opposing view is often described as a descriptive view: this involves not passing judgements about language use, but analysing and describing it instead. It’s probably fair to say that most linguists (people who study language) are inclined to be descriptivists.

To explore this in more detail, this resource will look at short examples of different opinions about language use and abuse. To help students get to grips with the different views, they will consider a continuum between extremely prescriptive at one end and extremely descriptive at the other end.

The Activity page can be found by clicking on 'Activity' in the bottom right corner of this page. In the slides in the Activity page, a number of quotes about language use appear. Students can use the slider below each extract to place the quote on a continuum between descriptive and prescriptive.

Finally, invite students to discuss where they stand in relation to each quote, and on a continuum between prescriptive and descriptive views. Consider the following questions:

Further Discussion

Notice the term code switching used in Slide 2. What does this mean? What is Tony Thorne suggesting here? Code switching is the way that speakers sometimes switch from one language, dialect or variety to another, according to the demands of the situation. Here Tony Thorne is suggesting that kids who use slang abbreviations are generally able to switch between a more informal variety and a more formal variety, depending on the context.

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Attitudes to new modes: Activity

From a BBC News article about the expression LOL entering the dictionary:

"There is a worrying trend of adults mimicking teen-speak," says Marie Clair of the Plain English Campaign, in the Daily Mail.

"They [adults] are using slang words and ignoring grammar. Their language is deteriorating."

Prescriptive
 
 
 
Descriptive

From the same BBC article about LOL, but this time a quotation from linguist Tony Thorne:

"Government educationalists get all worked up about words like LOL - they see them as substandard and unorthodox.

"But the small amount of research on this issue shows that kids who use slang abbreviations are the more articulate ones. It's called code switching."

Prescriptive
 
 
 
Descriptive

From a John Humphrys Daily Mail article about text messages:

One of the joys of the English language and one of the reasons it has been so successful in spreading across the globe is that it is infinitely adaptable.

If we see an Americanism we like, we snaffle it - and so we should. But texting and 'netspeak' are effectively different languages.

The danger - for young people especially - is that they will come to dominate. Our written language may end up as a series of ridiculous emoticons and everchanging abbreviations.

They (texters) are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped.

Prescriptive
 
 
 
Descriptive

From a David Crystal Guardian article about text messaging:

Research has made it clear that the early media hysteria about the novelty (and thus the dangers) of text messaging was misplaced. In one American study, less than 20% of the text messages looked at showed abbreviated forms of any kind - about three per message. And in a Norwegian study, the proportion was even lower, with just 6% using abbreviations. In my own text collection, the figure is about 10%.

There is no disaster pending. We will not see a new generation of adults growing up unable to write proper English. The language as a whole will not decline. In texting what we are seeing, in a small way, is language in evolution.

Prescriptive
 
 
 
Descriptive

John Sutherland:

Texting is penmanship for illiterates.

Prescriptive
 
 
 
Descriptive

Jean Gross:

Teenagers are spending more time communicating through electronic media and text messaging, which is short and brief. We need to help today’s teenagers understand the difference between their textspeak and the formal language they need to succeed in life.

Prescriptive
 
 
 
Descriptive

Sean Coughlan:

Children who regularly use the abbreviated language of text messages are actually improving their ability to spell correctly.

Prescriptive
 
 
 
Descriptive

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