The politics of words and hot dogs

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Thursday, January 24th, 2013 In Translation By Kenna Lee

Which hot dog is prescriptive and which is descriptive?

Did you know that the English word hot dog was first rejected from being included in a dictionary in 1934 but that it made its way into dictionaries more than 25 years later, along with other words like Zen and astronaut? It may seem like something trivial but have you ever wondered who decides which words are in dictionaries and why some of your teachers kept telling you how to “speak properly”, reminding you of rules?  These are the effects of the politics of words as well as academic debates on language.  Just as there are policies in economics and politics, so too is the world of linguists divided into two opposing sides: traditionalists and revisionists.  Should speakers always stick to language rules or should rules reflect how we speak?  And whose speech is considered cultured and why?  Disagreements over descriptive and prescriptive views on language are related to language usage and basically refer to the way we actually speak vs. the way language rules say we should speak. It sounds like a simple decision to make but our grammar rules are not the same as the ones used centuries ago, so what used to be ‘inappropriate’ was eventually accepted as the standard we use today.  Behind the scenes, decisions on ‘correct’ grammar rules and how words are treated are all little battlefields.  It is an ongoing war over words with a lot of ink being shed – and it also has other costs in tons of paper, the patience of language learners as well as kilometres of online comment threads. So are you ready to find out whether we Panthers are descriptive or prescriptive?  Get a free quote for your translation to find out!

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