A Functional Approach to the Choice between Descriptive, Prescriptive and Proscriptive Lexicography

  • H Bergenholtz
  • R Gouws


In lexicography the concepts of prescription and description have been employed for a long time without there ever being a clear definition of the terms prescription/prescriptive and description/descriptive. This article gives a brief historical account of some of the early uses of these approaches in linguistics and lexicography and argues that, although they have primarily been interpreted as linguistic terms, there is a need for a separate and clearly defined lexicographic application. Contrary to description and prescription, the concept of proscription does not have a linguistic tradition but it has primarily been introduced in the field of lexicography. Different types of prescription, description and proscription are discussed with specific reference to their potential use in dictionaries with text reception and text production as functions. Preferred approaches for the different functions are indicated. It is shown how an optimal use of a prescriptive, descriptive or proscriptive approach could be impeded by a polyfunctional dictionary. Consequently arguments are given in favour of monofunctional dictionaries. Keywords: Cognitive Function, Communication Function, Description, Descriptive, Encyclopaedic, Functions, Monofunctional, Polyfunctional, Prescription, Prescriptive, Proscription, Proscriptive, Semantic, Text Production, Text Reception

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2224-0039
print ISSN: 1684-4904