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Prescription and Prescriptivism


Admission requirements

A relevant BA degree.


Prescription and prescriptivism are both perceived, particularly by linguists, as rather negative terms. In this course, we will investigate why that should be the case. In doing so, we will focus in particular on the English language situation, though student input from other languages will be very welcome as well. The course will be taught within the context of the research project ‘Bridging the Unbridgeable: Linguists, Prescriptivists and the General Public’. We will study the rise of the usage guide and their function, today as well as in the past; the usage guide as a text type; the nature of the linguistic strictures that are dealt with in usage guides; as well as usage guide writers, their publishers and their audience. During the course, you will be able to make use of material that is being collected for the project, and with your final paper you will contribute to the research currently being done. For more information about the project, consult the project blog at

Course objectives

This course aims at giving students a thorough overview of the final stage of the standardisation process of the English language, the prescription stage. Building on insights gained during BA programmes in English language and culture studies, particularly in relation to developments in the history of the language, a critical and objective approach will be adopted that will enable students to study topical questions in normative linguistics, such as different views on issues of prescriptivism. After completion of the course, students will be well equipped to write a master’s thesis in a topic of central interest to normative linguistics.


The timetable will be available by June 1st on the website.

Mode of instruction

2-hour weekly seminar

Assessment method

Active course participation, including a presentation (20%), and a written essay (80%).



Reading list

  • Milroy, James and Lesley Milroy (1991). Authority in language (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.

  • Selected background reading.


Students should register through uSis.
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs