April 05, 2004

Question 21

by Nick Morgan

Crescat Sententia has again turned its "20 Questions" on one of its own, Amanda Butler. At this rate, they'll have the functional equivalent of "Who We Are" by 2007.

When asked to choose between grammatical prescriptivism (there are correct rules) or descriptivism (rules merely predict how people speak), Amanda replies:

    What is it with the binary questions? You know I don't like being put to an either/or. Fine, for once, I won't duck. The rules of grammar are objective things that are written down in books.

A follow-up question, if I may (and one that may interest Mr. Sandefur): can a grammatical prescriptivist embrace legal realism? If there are rules of grammar that posit correctness, must there also be a domain of natural law against which we can judge the rightness of legislation or common law?

April 5, 2004 11:42 AM | TrackBack

That is the point of the internal 20-Qs, but I do hope we'll have them done before 2007. We're currently averaging about one Crescatter/2 months, which ought to get us finished before the end of 2005. Faster if I ever get my act together.

Posted by: Will Baude at April 5, 2004 12:21 PM

I started to reply, but it became a bit too long for a comment, so I've posted my thoughts back on the blog here.

Posted by: Amanda Butler at April 5, 2004 12:37 PM

I was going to make a comment, but Amanda's post on her blog is right on the money. No need to restate what already was said quite well.

Posted by: Anthony 2 at April 5, 2004 01:42 PM

Absolutely not. Indeed, this binary tension (incompatibility?) between natural and positive law is at the heart of the jurisprudential struggles in our courts today. Is this country about the vibrant values embodied in the Declaration of Independence, and reaffirmed throughout the various civil rights movements? Or is it about the magnificent, intricate architecture of our Founding Fathers in the Constitution, a system of government unmatched anywhere and which should be unscarred by the chaos of undefinable terms like justice and equality? That is the eternal dilemma of our republic.

Posted by: centrist at April 6, 2004 02:45 AM

Hmm... I have an opposing theory regarding the completeness of internal 20 Questions. Given the rate at which they are adding new bloggers may actually exceed the rate of question publication, the task may never be completed. ;)

Posted by: Anthony Rickey at April 6, 2004 10:01 AM

I don't know what legal realism is, as I'm not a law student. I don't know what linguistics has to do with it, though, and I think descriptive linguistics is largely misunderstood. Every academic linguist currently in existence is a descriptive, and not prescriptive, linguist. Prescriptive grammar serves no purpose but to enforce a standard English by which people can be mutually intelligible and (more often) create a hierarchy of language 'correctness' which is often correlated with socioeconomic class. I recommend an excellent book by UC Berkeley linguist John McWhorter, called 'Word on the Street: Debunking the Myth of a Pure Standard English.'
The title sounds fairly political, but the book is not at all controversial among linguists, and it does a good job of explaining language evolution, as well as explaining why the 'can 'they' be used as a singular pronoun?' debate is fairly meaningless.

Posted by: Anon at April 7, 2004 12:23 PM
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