gmalivuk wrote:Kind of, though predictions really aren't prescriptions. "The climate is getting warmer," is a description about the present. "If we don't change anything, sea levels will destroy such-and-such area of coastal land by 2100," is a description about the future (i.e. a prediction). "The correct solution is drastically cutting carbon emissions," is more of a prescription. (And of course climate scientists are absolutely welcome to make such prescriptions, they're just not doing pure climate science when they do it.)
Similarly, "If you use double negatives in your speech many people will think you're lazy or uneducated," is a description/prediction, while, "It is incorrect to use double negatives," is more of a prescription. (Or at least the imperative version, "Aways avoid double negatives," is one.)
But by this definition, "If you use [some particular word] with [some particular meaning] people will misunderstand you" is a description, and "Therefore, you shouldn't use that word to mean that" is a prescription. And "If you use [some particular word] then you'll offend people" or "If you use [some particular word] then you'll perpetuate a misconception" is a description, and "Therefore, you shouldn't use it" is a prescription. And "No one really notices when you break [some particular rule], and even those who say you should follow it frequently break it" is a description, and "Therefore, you should ignore the rule" is a prescription.
The problem is that "prescriptivism" is often used to refer to a specific type of prescription, namely, certain traditional rules that, at best, are (or were at one point) used to distinguish who's educated, and at worst, are just stated and never really followed. But not all language prescription
. Saying that one should avoid offensive language, for instance, isn't part of the traditional rules, but it's still a prescription in the sense that it's telling people what they should and shouldn't say. And the opposite view is sometimes called "descriptivism", even though telling people that they should ignore a rule is a prescription, not a description.
But that terminology is problematic, because while "descriptivism" in that sense isn't a bad position, and it's a position I kind of agree with, it seems like people who call their position "descriptivism" tend to argue as if "descriptivism" and description, and "prescriptivism" and prescription, are the same thing, for instance, by treating things that are prescription as if they were done for the same reasons as "prescriptivism" even when they aren't part of traditional "prescriptivism", or using the fact that science is descriptive to say that "prescriptivism" is unscientific, or by arguing against prescriptions as if they were descriptions and calling that "descriptivism". (And even if people don't
argue that way, that terminology is likely to cause confusion, both among people who believe arguments against "prescriptivism" and then, because of confusing terminology, go on to dislike prescription that isn't "prescriptivism", and among people who care about prescribing things who won't be convinced to be "descriptivists" because they think it will mean giving up all prescription. And then people will talk past each other and it'll just get ugly.)
xtifr wrote:One of the differences between science and faith (better terms than descriptivist and prescriptivist)
I disagree; that ties it to a completely separate debate, and those terms already have strong positive and/or negative connotations for some people, which will just make it more annoying to argue about.