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date: 29 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

In linguistics, descriptivism and prescriptivism are commonly depicted as antonyms. Dyads of objectivity and subjectivity, evidence-based analysis vs. the pull of opinion, and impartial engagement vs. the idiosyncrasies of individual response recur repeatedly. Yet prescription and description can be placed in markedly asymmetric relation. Being descriptive is made part of the legitimate practice of linguistic response. Prescriptivism is both delegitimized and devalorized. Such demarcations prove interestingly complex in lexicography, where descriptive and prescriptive can co-exist within a single work (or even a single entry). The point at which descriptivism shades into prescriptivism can be difficult to locate. Descriptive processes of collection and evaluation of evidence can be accompanied by prescriptive (and proscriptive) reservation. While a historical trajectory from prescriptive to descriptive can be identified, this exhibits unexpected configurations, especially if moral and cultural prescriptivism are considered. These issues are examined as reflected in English dictionaries, especially the Oxford English Dictionary.

Keywords: description, descriptivism, prescription, prescriptivism, objectivity, subjectivity, evidence

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