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Prescriptivism in English literature?: A final contribution to the series from Leiden University's ‘Bridging the Unbridgeable’ project

  • Ingrid Tieken-Boon Van Ostade

One of the things we discovered in the course of the Bridging the Unbridgeable project is that usage guides are predominantly produced by non-specialists. There are linguists, too, who wrote usage guides – David Crystal, for instance, Pam Peters and most recently Stephen Pinker – but authors are very often journalists and novelists. Kingsley Amis (1922–1995), whose The King's English was published posthumously in 1997, is a good example, and so is Rebecca Gowers, who revised and updated her great-grandfather's Plain Words in 2014. Examples of journalists-turned-usage-guide-writers are Simon Heffer (Strictly English, 2010) and Oliver Kamm (Accidence Will Happen, 2015). Writing is their job, so it is not surprising that novelists and journalists are drawn to language prescription as well. They may not be linguists in the strict sense, but they should be considered language specialists all the same.

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Beal, J. 2010. ‘The grocer's apostrophe: Popular prescriptivism in the 21st century.’ English Today 26(2), 5764.
Kostadinova, V. (in progress). Attitudes to Usage in American English. PhD Dissertation, Leiden: University of Leiden.
Mesthrie, R., Swann, J., Deumert, A. & Leap, W. L. 2009. Introducing Sociolinguistics. 2nd edn. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
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Tieken-Boon van Ostade, I. 2013. ‘Flat adverbs and Jane Austen's letters.’ In Van der Wal, M. & Rutten, G. (eds.), Touching the Past. Studies in the Historical Sociolinguistics of Ego-Documents. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 91106.
Tieken-Boon van Ostade, I. (in progress). English Usage Guides: The Biography of a Genre.
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English Today
  • ISSN: 0266-0784
  • EISSN: 1474-0567
  • URL: /core/journals/english-today
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