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What is ambiscriptivism? (The important word you don’t know)


Ambiscriptivism is the use of both prescriptivism and descriptivism when communicating. It should be noted that in this article these terms are being used within the context of linguistics; the study of language. Outside of linguistics, they could well have entirely different meanings and functions.

When we communicate, with ourselves or each other, we use a whole range of components; letters, words, sentences, sounds, sayings, phrases, and more. But, what is right?

When someone says, “That’s not how you say it properly.” or “That’s not a ‘real’ word.” What does that really mean? Let’s have a look in more detail.

What is ambiscriptivism?
What is prescriptivism?
What is descriptivism?
What type of communicator are you?
Where does the word ambiscriptivism come from?
Why are these concepts important?
How does this knowledge help children(or adults)?
How does this knowledge help the learning process?
Is one concept, prescriptivism or descriptivism, more important than the other?
What can you use Draw It Books for?
Get creative

What is ambiscriptivism?

Ambiscriptivism is how we actually communicate.

It is a blend of both our understanding of how society and the world says we should communicate(prescriptivism) and how we actually do, want to, or even need to, communicate(descriptivism).

What is prescriptivism?

Prescriptivism is the correct and proper use of language. Basically, it is the idea that language should be used in a specific way; according to a set rules. Essentially, any use of language that doesn’t follow these rules is wrong.

Prescriptivism is how to use language the ‘right’ way.

What is descriptivism?

Descriptivism is the study and observation how language is actually used. It is the observation of people, communities, and culture, and recognising how communication actually happens.

Descriptivism is how people actually use language.

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What type of communicator are you?

You are an ambiscriptivist. Everybody is. It’s just that people tend to be more one type of communicator than another.

Some people are extremely prescriptive. They are very strict in their use of language. Arguably, excessively so.

They are the sort of people that say, “You mean, ‘Paul and I’ not ‘Paul and me’.”

This sort of rigidity and stubbornness towards communication can often lead to stress and conflict. Particularly when people aren’t flexible and open to change or criticism.

On the other hand, some people are extremely descriptive. They use the words they want to use and communicate however they want to communicate. This sort of thing may happen in smaller communities or groups; where slang or colloquialisms are used a lot. Which is great, except for when those people are struggling to be understood or get their message across to people outside of their circle.

The important thing to remember then, is that there are many different parts to communication. Prescriptivism, descriptivism, and ambiscriptivism however, are very, very important parts of communication.

Where does the word ambiscriptivism come from?

Me, Chris Davy, I made it up. I made up the word ambiscriptivism.

I couldn’t find any real reference to the word being used by other people. Although, I’m sure I’m not the only person to advocate this word. Admittedly, I also didn’t look too hard. But what that means is that it’s not commonly used and recognised. So, I’ll happily stake claim to making it up.

I made it up because I believe it’s an important concept that needs to be promoted and recognised. I believe having an understanding of this concept helps individuals, teams, and communities to function better.

If you take the concepts of prescriptivism and descriptivism. The reality, I believe, is that we actually use them both. But there is no word to more explicitly define this. You could say ‘communicating’ is the appropriate word. But we know that is a very broad and vague term used to explain general expression. Ambiscriptivism is a more conscious joining of the ideas of prescriptivism and descriptivism.

I took the prefix(the start of a word) ambi-(which comes from Latin for ‘both’) and I replaced pres- and des-, at the start of prescriptivism and descriptivism, with it; to make ambiscriptivism.

The prefix is used in many other instances, so it isn’t entirely random. Look at words like:

Ambidextrous – The ability to use both hands well.

Ambivalent – Having mixed feedings about something.

Ambivert – Someone who is both introvert and extrovert(Which, again, I think we all are).

Ambiguous – Something that doesn’t have a clearly defined meaning. Something that has more than one interpretation.

Ambipedal – For any budding footballers or coaches, this would be the ability to use both feet well.

Why are these concepts important?

Communication is a huge part of anybody’s life. So, it’s important to understand how people communicate, and are culturally expected to communicate. It is essential for survival, growth, and happiness.

The reality is though, is that people can express themselves however they want to; whether the law, their religion or beliefs, their family, friends, workplace, or their ‘circle’ says they should or shouldn’t.

Ambiscriptivism then, is a vital component in critical analysis that helps allow us an opportunity to understand ourselves and each other in any given situation.

By acknowledging how people express themselves, through their unique blend of prescriptivism and descriptivism(ambiscriptivism), we can develop a better perception of why they are who they are and why they do they things they do, or believe that things should be done a certain way.

When it comes to supporting children or beginners, because they are so young inexperienced, their knowledge and understanding of communication is typically smaller than that of an adult or expert. So, in order to support them as best we can it’s critical that we essentially ‘try and speak their language’. It is within our interests to be ambiscriptive.

woman reading a book to the children
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How does this knowledge help children(or adults)?

As parents, guardians, brothers and sisters, teachers, babysitters etc. we can use this concept to better relate to and understand each other.

Common sense and common knowledge aren’t really things. They are just nice ides. They are only as common as they are within any given group of people. Basically, if something hasn’t been cultivated and taught, then it likely isn’t a common part of a culture(big or small); it isn’t common sense.

So, it’s important to be mindful that sometimes kids(or adults) just don’t know something. The frustrations and complications that can arise in different situations, particularly those between two people, are often just down to a lack of awareness and understanding.

Because of this, time has to be taken in order to establish a foundation to work from. Otherwise we are running on assumption; which offers even less guarantees for being happy or successful.

How does this knowledge help the learning process?

Given that any learning process tends to have a facilitator and a learner, ambiscriptivism is crucial when it comes to building rapport and understanding between the facilitator and the learner.

So, from a facilitator’s perspective, it is useful because they can be mindful of how the learner is communicating with them and how they can shepherd a conversation to further support the learner; by doing things such as using the language that the learner uses.

From a learners perspective, it is useful because they can start to broaden their knowledge and understanding, and acknowledge how they speak and how others are speaking to them; especially if it is different to how they would typically communicate.

And perhaps most importantly, as individuals, it allows each of us to remember that we are all human. We express ourselves in our unique way; and this includes the way we give and receive information.

Is one concept, prescriptivism or descriptivism, more important than the other?

Like all things, the answer is yes; but within context. Their importance is situational.

There are situations where we benefit from communication being more prescriptive; medical, emergency, or high risk environments, for example. This is because we may need to ensure things like safety and security.

But there are also plenty of situations where it is important to remember that descriptivism is vital to growth, evolution, and progress. For example, if something can be done ‘better’ wouldn’t we change the terminology that we use?

In addition, we wouldn’t be able to engage in or enjoy the world of creative arts if were weren’t open to some levels of descriptivism.

What can you use Draw It Books for?

Draw It Books essentially help bridge the gap between prescriptivism and descriptivism. They are ambiscriptive books at heart.

I’ve written some texts, using what is largely regarded as acceptable English(prescriptivism), but I’ve done it in my own way, and encourage readers to put their slant on the stories with the pictures they choose to put inside(descriptivism).

The most significant part of the learning process that occurs when using a Draw It Book is that it is reader lead. The reader is the primary interpreter and creator or what goes into the book.

I mean, I wrote the words, so I could tell you what I would stereotypically expect to see. But who’s to say that I’d be right?

What something means to you could mean something entirely different to me. The books can be used as a great mediator to help establish someone’s understanding, or perception, of language or a situation.

That’s why art and creativity is important. So, we can safely explore and challenge that together and establish a better collective knowledge and understanding.

words text scrabble blocks
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Get creative

Now you’ve got this perspective and understanding of how this part of language works, stay creative or help someone else get creative. Visit the Draw It Books shop to keep that creativity flowing.

chrisdavy1985

Born in Wolverhampton. Raised in Wolverhampton and Exmouth. Educated in Wolverhampton, Exmouth, and Kingston. Living in Exeter.

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