Re: [sl4] normative language is rational

From: Johnicholas Hines (
Date: Fri Feb 13 2009 - 07:29:49 MST

On Fri, Feb 13, 2009 at 3:28 AM, Petter Wingren-Rasmussen
<> wrote:
> The actual discussion you describe (which is the important point) _describes_ probable outcomes for the future. Shouldnt it be called descriptive then? In linguistics the opposing terms are normative and descriptive..

My example was "We should donate to the Methuselah Foundation's M
prize." I don't understand how you could call this descriptive
language. It is grammatically and semantically advocating an action to
the group.

> Imho normative language(according to my defintion) doesnt have much use
> outside of oppression and wartime propaganda.

I think you underestimate the frequency of commonsense language like
"Should I pick up some milk at the store?".

> You might say that the following sentence is normative: "You should use
> punctuation, avoid long sentences and start each new sentence with a capital
> letter."

Yes, that's the sense of the word "normative" that I was trying to use.

> Writing it in a descriptive way where you show both action and consequence
> will be somewhat longer, but less provocative and have a higher chance of
> invoking change in the one you're talking to, for example:
> "If you dont use punctuation and avoid long sentences, your text will
> be more difficult to understand and less people will bother to read it."

You make three claims about this "descriptivization" transformation:
1. It will be somewhat longer -- Your example argues that we should be brief.
2. It will be less provocative -- Is this good? We're talking about
persuasion here.
3. It will have a higher chance of invoking change in the one you're talking to.

The third point is the crucial one. Is the transformed normative
message, now grammatically descriptive, more persuasive than the
original? I disagree, but I can respect your opinion.

I think if the group tends to avoid grammatically normative speech,
then it will drift towards more speculation and prediction and less
thinking about concrete actions that we might take now.


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