Description or Prescription? An Analysis of the Term 'Standard English' in the Work of Two Twentieth-Century Linguists

Document Type



English (Scripps)

Publication Date



Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature


In this article I propose to consider the work of two British linguists in the early twentieth century in order to examine how they use the term ‘standard English’ in their theoretical and practical research. In analysing the role of the term in their work I propose to demonstrate that this term is not in fact the descriptive tool that they claim it to be, but a term that has sense only within a strict form of prescriptivism. Furthermore, by a close examination of the prescriptive functions of this term I will demonstrate how it is used to the benefit of specific social interests and against other such interests. That is to say, how it comes to prescribe the discourse of one class of speakers by proscribing the discourse of others. The two linguists whose work will be considered were two of the most independent of the early twentieth century British linguists, Daniel Jones and Henry Wyld.

Rights Information

© 1987 Elsevier Ltd.

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.