Descriptivism vs Prescriptivism 

One of the fundamental tenets of Linguistics is to be a descriptivist, not a prescriptivist.

The prescriptivist holds to old edicts such as the rule to never split (ha!) an infinitive. The descriptivist seeks to describe language as it actually is, even if it’s lol or emoji. (Yes, emoji is language.)

The prescriptivist says, “You all shouldn’t do that.” The descriptivist says, “Why do y’all do that?” One leads to an impasse, the other to a conversation. (And, sometimes, to fundamental truths that push forth our understanding of ourselves as a species.)

This applies to more than just language.

Many of the policy debates in the US today come down to this fundamental difference in approaching the world. Prescriptivists focus on the fact that illegal immigrants broke the law. Descriptivists recognize that the disincentive to break the law is so much weaker than the incentives driving certain groups of people to come here (even illegally), and instead seek pragmatic solutions.

Prescriptivists try to force the world to be how they want it, often lying to themselves in the process. Descriptivists strive to see the world how it truly is, and usually develop more empathy in the process.

At the end of the day, descriptivists learn more.

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