Proper or “Proper”?

Following every linguist’s mantra of “Linguistics is descriptive, not prescriptive”, some of my readers might be intrigued by the lack of quotation marks around the little, yet powerful word proper. I made this choice intentionally to illustrate an important fact noted by Deborah Cameron in her book Verbal Hygiene (cf. 1995): Linguists have often avoided taking part in a scientific discussion of prescriptivism.

As the focus of my project is on members of the general public and not on prescriptive usage guide writers, I decided to use the general public’s linguistic label. As Cornips, Jaspers and de Rooij (2014, p. 3), some labels or linguistic concepts may be true for non-linguists, but “may be fiction to us [linguists]”.


Cameron, D., 1996. Verbal Hygiene. London: Routledge.

Cornips, L., Jaspers, J. & de Rooij, V., 2014. “The politics of labeling youth vernaculars in the Netherlands and Belgium”. Working Papers in Urban Languages & Literacies. pp.: 1-23.