This thought experiment is difficult because prescriptivists make statements that are demonstrably untrue. An example is that a language community can dissolve into mutual incomprehensibility if language rules aren’t consciously followed. It not only has never happened, but, and this is the crux, to be able to believe it can happen displays an appalling lack of knowledge about language. When every day people make statements like that, you might excuse them for not knowing anything about language, but foreign language teachers? Moreover, I feel a strong antipathy toward the underlying world view of prescriptivists, a hierarchical, authoritarian world view based on false claims of superiority. But, back to my major objection: prescriptivists’ statements about language are factually wrong and historically inaccurate, as are most of their statements about society. That’s why they are prescriptivists.
But let me try anyway.
Linguists have shown us that language is made up of rules. Some argue that these rules are unconsciously held, but any intelligent, educated person has surely been made aware of many rules that are held unconsciously by people of less education and less intelligence; in clothing, in diet, in manners, in reading taste and musical taste, in sports, in art, and on and on, intelligent, cultivated people are very aware of what they are doing. And so is it true in language and speech. Surely an orator delivering his discourse or an author composing his essay are very aware of the elements of their creation. That awareness is what separates the cultivated from the crude. We must, a some level of judgment, decide that some people are better at these things than are others and the purpose of education is to bring as many as possible to those abilities, is it not? Is that not the essence of a democratic and egalitarian society.
What we have seen recently is a deliberate scaling back of expectations of clear, concise, and accurate grammar usage. It is as though teachers, themselves respectful of proper usage but under the onslaught of education fads, have just given up the fight and decided to go for “self expression” as a goal, even if what is expressed has no cohesion, grace, or sense. We see it in the homework turned in by students and stiffly defended by parents, and in the replies sent to parents by teachers and administrators! Newspapers permit egregious errors to go unchecked and the radio and television airwaves are filled with sollecisms. The liberal descriptivists, strengthened by the anything-goes attitudes of the sixties, assure us that language change is natural and inevitable; obviously it is or we would still be speaking Old English. But that doesn’t mean that at any point in history there is not a body of work, hallowed by time, tradition and authority, on which we can draw for a model of what is best in English. Other languages could learn from us.
Gad!!!! I don’t believe any of that, but I’d love to see reactions to it.