ALLAMA IQBAL OPEN UNIVERSITY, ISLAMABAD
(Department of English language & Applied Linguistics)
Course:Grammar (5657) Level: Dip TEFL Semester: Spring, 2018 (unit 1-4)
ASSIGNMENT No 1
Q.1 How would you differentiate between prescriptive and descriptive approach to grammar teaching? Which approach do you think is more suitable in teaching grammar to ESL learners within the Pakistani context? (15)
Linguistics takes a descriptive approach to language: it tries to explain things as they actually are, not as we wish them to be. When we study language descriptively, we try to find the unconscious rules that people follow when they say things like sentence (1). The schoolbook approach to language is typically prescriptive. It tries to tell you how you should speak and write.
Notice that there is a place for both description and prescription in language study. For example, when adults learn a foreign language, they typically want someone to tell them how to speak, in other words to prescribe a particular set of rules to follow, and expect a teacher or book to set forth those rules. But how do teachers know what rules to prescribe? At some point in time, someone had to describe the language and infer those rules. Prescription, in other words, can only occur after the language has been described, and good prescription depends on adequate description. We obviously don’t want to be teaching people the wrong things about language.
In an ideal world, descriptive and prescriptive approaches to language would follow this harmonious relationship: linguists would describe the rules of a language, and pedagogues would use those descriptions to make textbooks to teach language learners. In the real world, however, practitioners of the two approaches often separate themselves into hostile camps. Prescriptivists accuse descriptivists of being anarchists who want to do away with all rules of language. Descriptivists accuse prescriptivists of uninformed bigotry. With each side posting guards at the ramparts to repel the enemy, both tend to ignore the work and concerns of the other. Grammar textbooks used in K-12 education often neglect the findings of linguistics and instead copy outdated, factually incorrect material from older textbooks. For their part, linguists frequently treat prescriptivism as a bad word but fail (with some honorable exceptions) to show how their abstract theorizing is relevant to language teaching.
There are two common definitions of grammar:
The systematic study and description of a language
A set of rules and examples dealing with the syntax and word structures of a language, usually intended as an aid to the learning of that language.
Descriptive grammar (definition #1) refers to the structure of a language as it’s actually used by speakers and writers. Prescriptive grammar (definition #2) refers to the structure of a language as certain people think it should be used.
Both kinds of grammar are concerned with rules—but in different ways. Specialists in descriptive grammar (called linguists) study the rules or patterns that underlie our use of words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. On the other hand, prescriptive grammarians (such as most editors and teachers) lay out rules about what they believe to be the “correct” or “incorrect” use of language.