language-prscriptivismLanguage Prescriptivism

Language, like many patterns of social interaction, has both rules and creativity. These are natural processes subject to scientific investigation, but depending on the dominant ideology of the period, one or the other has often been considered “unnatural” and outside the realm of science. Professor Douglass Kibbee of the University of Illinois is working with I-CHASS to study in a scientific manner one of the types of linguistic behavior most often condemned as unnatural: the prescription of usage by grammarians, teachers and other self-designated experts on language. To incorporate prescriptivism into a scientific framework for the study of language, we need to understand how it works in different national traditions. Early work was undertaken in 2004 to create a prototype of a database that could be used and easily adapted by researchers separated by thousands of miles. The developed software, Invisibase, allowed us to change columns on the fly, over the internet, without having to know anything about programming. It also required them to confront the thorny issues of dealing with multiple character sets required by languages other than English. Since then we have continued to investigate the issues and possible solutions, most recently meeting with the SEASR and the Cyberenvironments teams in NCSA.