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The South Central Modern Language Association

Descriptive and Prescriptive Attitudes toward a Standard Language

Author(s): Ernest F. Haden
Source: The South Central Bulletin, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), pp. 2-3
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press on behalf of The South Central Modern Language

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The South Central Bulletin

This official publication of the South Central Modern
Language Association is published at the University of
Houston. Subscriptions, which are $3.00 for the year
(March, May, October, and Winter Studies), should be
sent to James A. Castaiieda, Rice University, Houston,
Texas 77001; for members of the Association a subscription is included in the current annual dues of $3.00.
Patrick G. Hogan, Jr.
University of Houston
John H. Hammond (Spanish)
Texas Christian University
Lyle H. Kendall, Jr. (English)
University of Texas at Arlington
Marie L. LaGarde (French)
Louisiana State University in New Orleans
John Pilkington, Jr. (American Literature)
University of Mississippi
E. Leighton Rudolph (American Literature)
University of Arkansas
Adolf E. Schroeder (German)
Louisiana State University
Jane W. Malin
University of Houston
The purpose of this Association shall be the advancement of scholarship, teaching, and research in the modern
languages and literatures in the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and such
other states as may hereafter be in the territory of the
John A. Thompson, President
Louisiana State University
Helmut Rehder, Vice-President
University of Texas
Castafieda, Executive Secretary-Treasurer
Rice University
Patrick G. Hogan, Jr., Editor
University of Houston
Malin, Business Manager
University of Houston
Ernest F. Haden, Past-President
University of Texas
Campbell, Program Chairman
Oklahoma State University
William O. S. Sutherland, Jr., English
University of Texas
Virgil W. Topazio, French
Rice University
J. Wesley Thomas, German
University of Arkansas
Lawrence S. Poston, Jr., Spanish
University of Oklahoma

MARCH, 1969

Descriptive and Prescriptive

Attitudes Toward
A Standard Language*
If you will indulge me for a few minutes more, I
should like to bring to your attention some reflections
with regard to the practical aspects of the notion of
Standard Language. These reflections were inspired, in
part, by the reading of an interesting and useful book by
John Lyons, Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics, Cambridge U. Press, 1968.
For centuries the notion of Standard Language has
been the concern of linguists, whether they called themselves philosophers or grammarians or poets.
Only recently when linguists came to consider that
linguistics was a science has there grown up some misunderstanding.
First, it must be noted that the nineteenth- and
twentieth-century conceptions of science have differed
from that type of science as was practiced by earlier
workers. The influences of the natural sciences and the
social sciences have both been considerable: from the
natural sciences linguists have borrowed the techniques
of observation and classification; from the social sciences,
particularly behaviorist psychology, the requirement of
objectivity, and the rejection of any thing that smacked
of introspection or "mentalism," have been utilized.
Thus, linguistics came to be thought of as an observational-descriptive science, no allowance being made for
judgment. It follows then that all the utterances of a
native speaker are of equal importance and interest to the
As linguistics gained prestige in the academic community, this tenet, I fear, was misinterpreted to mean that
all the utterances of a native speaker were equally valid
and worthy of note not merely as observable phenomena,
but also as models to be imitated. If such a claim is imputed to the linguist by the teacher of language, serious
misunderstanding is bound to result.
The matter is complicated by several factors, which I
can only mention briefly:
a) in our business, many linguists are also language
b) some language teachers are also linguists;
c) other language teachers are impressed by linguistics, believing that linguists, per se, hold the key to
the perennial problems of language instruction.
Linguistics as an observational science has little if anything to offer to language pedagogy. What linguists can,
and do, contribute to the language teacher is, hopefully,
more accurate data, as materials of instruction.
Linguistics, conceived as a rationalistic theory of language, similarly contributes little to the teaching of languages, the native language or a foreign language. This
is true even though workers in this field have explicitly
been concerned with providing a theoretical explanation
of the acquisition of the mother tongue, and particularly
of those who seek to develop a model of language
Let me turn now to the matter of descriptive linguistics
as opposed to prescriptive procedures.
Continued on Page 3
*Presidential remarks, delivered at the 1968 meeting of
the Association.

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MARCH, 1969



President's Remarks
Continued from Page 2
All of us, as foreign language teachers are, and must be,
prescriptive. We are forced to correct our students' mistakes, of all kinds. We have only one restriction to observe in this connection: our judgment of what constitutes
a mistake to be corrected must be based on an accurate
knowledge of the facts of usage in the language we teach.
We have not only the task of of imparting to our students the foreign language in question, but also something
of the culture of those who communicate in it. An important element of that culture is the attitude those speakers hold vis-a-vis their language. This may or may not
involve nationalistic components. What is Standard Language for one language community, in the broad sense,
may be regionally defined, or socially defined. Often it is
But, to quote a book review in a recent issue of the
bulletin entitled "L'enseignement du francais aux etrangers" (The Teaching of French as a Foreign Language),
published by the Ecole de L'Alliance Francaise de Paris
May-June, 1968:
s'exprimer correctement, sans se faire remarquer . . .
ne pas se singulariser, tel est le but a atteindre.
When our students go abroad and have occasion to use
what they have learned from us, may they not be conspicuous. But again, let us see to it that they speak in
such a way as to be welcome in the front door, and not
the back door.
Let us then be, unashamedly, prescriptive in our teaching, but as fully aware as we can be of the facts furnished
us by linguistics, descriptive or rationalistic.

University of Texas

South Central
Renaissance Conference
The eighteenth annual South Central Renaissance Conference will meet April 25 and 26, 1969, at Arlington,
Texas, under the auspices of the host institution, The
University of Texas at Arlington.
The program committee, under the chairmanship of
Sidney Landman of the host institution, includes Ann
Gossman (English), TCU; Frank Halstead (Romance
Languages and History of Medicine), UM; and Vincent
Cassidy (History, Philosophy, and Art), USwL.
At the business meeting of the Conference the following amendment will be considered: That by-law number
three (3), as modified in 1960 by Amendment 6, be
amended by substituting for the phrase, "dues of one
dollar per year," the following-dues for each fiscal year
of the Conference to be fixed by the membership at the
annual business meeting of the Conference.
All members and prospective members of the Conference are urged not only to plan to attend the Arlington
meeting but to send dues for 1968-69 of one dollar to
T. J. Mattern, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, SCRC, Department of English, Stephen F. Austin State College,
Nacogdoches, Texas 75961.
Current officers of the Conference, in addition to Professor Mattern, are: President, George W. Boyd (English),
Millsaps; Vice-President, George F. Reinecke (English),
LSUNO; Executive Committee, Robert G. Collmer (English), TTC; Peter W. Guenther (Art), UH; Richard A.


Jackson (History), UH; Marjorie D. Lewis (English),

TCU; Helen S. Thomas (English), UH, ex officio; Cecil
Adkins, NTSU; Laurence Lyall, Lamar SC.
Milton H. Rickels, president of the Louisiana Folklore Society, has announced that the spring, 1969,
meeting will be held in Thibodaux, Louisiana. The
host institution is Nicholls State College, and the
Program Chairman is Professor Nolan LeCompte, Department of English, Nicholls State College.

Minutes of General Meeting

Continued from Page 1

Associate Editor for Spanish-John Hammond,
Texas Christian University
Associate Editor for French-Marie LaGarde,
Louisiana State University in New Orleans
Associate Editors for American Literature-John
Pilkington, University of Mississippi, and E.
Leighton Rudolph, University of Arkansas.
Before the vote, President Haden pointed out that
the 1968 Nominating Committee, chaired by Professor
Clarence L. Cline, had submitted two names instead of
one for the post of Associate Editor for American Literature. It was suggested from the floor that both nominees
be elected. President Haden saw no objection and the vote
was taken on the entire slate as published on the front
page of the October 1968 Bulletin.
The Executive Secretary also reported the following:
1. The minutes of the Executive Committee meeting
held at Rice University's Faculty Club on March
22, 1968, were read by then acting Executive Secretary, Douglas Milburn, Jr. The minutes were approved as read.
2. The report of Charles D. Peavy, SCMLA delegate
to the Southern Humanities Conference, held at
the University of Tennessee on March 29 and 30,
1968, was approved as published on page 93 of the
October, 1968, issue of our Bulletin.
3. President Haden's report on the Plenary Sessions
which he attended in New York was accepted. Two
principal items were discussed:
A. The desire of some members of SCMLA from
Mississippi to transfer the membership of their
entire state from SCMLA to the South Atlantic
MLA was presented. It was pointed out that
there has already been extensive correspondence
on this matter and that it is scheduled to be an
important item on the agenda of the meeting of
the regional executive secretaries, scheduled to
take place in New York on December 5 and 6.
The SCMLA Executive Committee felt, in view
of this forthcoming meeting, that no action was
necessary at this time. It did note, however,
that an individual may even at the present
time belong to the regional or regionals of his
choice, regardless of his place of residence.
B. The national office of the MLA has received a
number of letters protesting Chicago as the site
of the 1969 national meeting. The Executive
Committee discussed a widely circulated petition, the signers of which state that they "shall
not attend the 1969 meetings unless they are
held in some other place." President Haden
Continued on Page 4

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