Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Rhetoric and Professional Communication; Applied Linguistics and Technology

First Advisor

Bethany Gray

Second Advisor

Jo Mackiewicz


Since the inception of modern linguistic study in the early twentieth century, prescriptivism has largely been ignored as an area worthy of serious linguistic investigation. However, recent theoretical and empirical work has sought to better understand the relationship between prescriptivism and language variation and change. In this dissertation, I carry out a three-part study in which I compare the way that the features for eight well-known prescriptive usage rules can be observed in formal and informal writing. In Part I of the study, I identify the eight usage problems to include in the study and the 11 usage guides from which to collect relevant entries. I then present a prescriptivism index for each usage problem from each guide to represent the extent to which each guide suggests that each rule should be upheld or ignored. In Part 2, I carry out a comparative corpus analysis of the usage problems in two different registers (blogs and news) that differ in terms of formality. The purpose of this analysis is to compare the proportions of times the rules are followed or not followed between registers. In Part 3, I present the results of a survey conducted among bloggers and news writers to better understand their views on the different usage problems.

Findings revealed substantial differences in the ways that usage guides treated the usage problems and in the attitudes bloggers and journalists espoused toward the usage problems. Additionally, there was substantial variation in the degree to which individual usage rules were adhered to, but there was surprisingly little variation in the patterns of usage for each usage problem between the two registers. These findings suggest that the level of formality of the text did not considerably affect the usage patterns observed in the corpora.

Copyright Owner

Tyler Jordan Smith



File Format


File Size

222 pages