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  1. What is a "revisionist grammar", with reference to English grammar?

  2. How does such a grammar differ from other similar things, such as descriptive, prescriptive, and conventional English grammars?

  3. Do web-based English grammar sites (including EL&U) tend to reinforce or undermine revisionist, conventional, descriptive, or prescriptive grammars?

My own understanding of "revisionist" is neutral, neither pejorative nor complimentary. I borrow my understanding of "revisionist grammar" (such as it is) from my understanding of so-called "revisionist histories". All histories are stories; these stories are different each time they're told by a different teller at a different time; likewise all grammars are stories, etc. The truth value, if any, of the stories of history and grammar varies.

Two examples of uses of the phrase in question, "revisionist grammar", taking care to cover the range, including apparently non-pejorative along with pejorative uses.

Russell found that when we let the visible grammar lead us, we are soon trapped in what he considered an ontology of semantical referents that consist of rather "paradoxical objects." It seemed to Russell that we cannot satisfy at once the two natural ideas of (i) syntactic faithfulness (keeping the visible grammar intact) and (ii) semantic faithfulness (keeping the semantics referential). To escape this predicament, two major philosophical (and soon adopted in formal linguistics) methodologies, both revisionist, have been pursued.

On the first grammar-revisionist policy, ....

Referential Mechanics: Direct Reference and the Foundations of Semantics, Joseph Almog, Oxford University Press, Feb 17, 2014

"Feminist revisionist grammar" (the use of feminine pronouns as gender indefinite) is a pet peeve of mine, because according to the rules of standard English it changes the meanings of sentences to imply that all of those the sentence describes are female ....

TNIV: The Neutered International Version

Various other examples from the web. These examples are not intended to be comprehensive.

Phonological Representations: Their Names, Forms and Powers, John Coleman, Cambridge University Press, Jan 29, 1998.

These Rough Notes, "Interview: Patrick Evans", Thursday, 8 October 2015.

Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Rhetoric of Rewriting: 'Turning the Word', Chris Stamatakis, OUP Oxford, Mar 15, 2012

"Pastor Ted @ HCC: Bad Religion", Monday, September 13, 2010.

"Alphaville is stalking me"

"Vegas Fandom Weekly"

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  • Doe this terminology already exist? If so, who have you seen use it? That would help a lot. – herisson Oct 7 '15 at 21:49
  • I found one reference to "revisionist pronunciation" – herisson Oct 7 '15 at 21:52
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    the phrase "revisionist grammar" seems to turn up a bit in discussions of "singular they" as well. Overall, the phrase seems to be used in many different ways. I don't really see how it means any more than the sum of its parts. Do you have a reason for thinking it does? If so, please include that in your question! – herisson Oct 7 '15 at 21:55
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    @Mari-LouA, I'll give your suggestions a shot. Thanks. – JEL Oct 10 '15 at 8:45
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    I can't answer this question but it sounds interesting and potentially answerable by a knowledgeable person marshaling facts and not just opinions. Consequently, I don't see why, after 10 months, it should have fallen under suspicion of being a POB question. – Sven Yargs Aug 18 '16 at 5:50
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What is a revisionist grammar?

Since revisionist is always a pejorative term, it doesn't mean anything specific; it merely refers to a grammar that differs in some pejorative way from some standard grammar upheld by the speaker.
Substitute any other intellectual structure for "grammar" for other variants.

(Presumably the grammar referred to is a real grammar, i.e, a list of structures, rules, and correlations for organizing the lexical items of one's language into grammatical sentences, and for analyzing the structures of others' sentences.)

So, the first question is the least interesting; it's just an expression of pique.

How does such a grammar differ from other similar things, such as descriptive, prescriptive, and conventional grammars?

Here we have some problems; as I've explained "such a" grammar could be any grammar at all, so no conclusions can be drawn about how it differs from other grammars.

Another problem is that not all the three things mentioned are similar. They are quite different things, and not all of them are grammars.

  1. Descriptive grammars are just grammars. Any real grammar of a language has to describe it.
    Thoroughly and accurately.
  2. Traditional grammars aren't really grammars, but rather are attempts at description of certain English grammatical phenomena (usually a small subset) using a Latin-based grammar, complete with a dozen or two tenses, subjunctive and conditional moods, nominative and genitive cases, unsplittable infinitives, unstrandable prepositions, zombie rules galore, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all. These are usually composed by well-meaning but frequently ill-equipped authors for schoolchildren. The result is as you see -- total chaos.

  3. Prescriptive grammars do not exist, at least not as real grammars. There are essentially lists of phrases, words, and constructions that some self-appointed experts believe are not appropriate. Why they are not appropriate and where the experts get their authority are never clearly determined, but the authors always speak with great authority. In other words, these are personal peeves. Not grammars.

As to the third question,

Do web-based grammar sites (including EL&U) tend to reinforce or undermine revisionist, conventional, descriptive, or prescriptive grammars?

my impression, at least, is that the Web turns up the volume on the cacophony. Since, as Geoff Pullum says, anyone with any qualifications at all (including no qualifications at all) can make any statement at all about English grammar, no matter how stupid or obviously wrong it is, and -- if it's made with sufficient certitude and sense of Authority -- people will believe it. And that covers a lot of statements.

Your guess is as good as mine about how much one influences any other, though.

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  • Can you support the claim that "revisionist grammar" is always a pejorative term? The rest of your...polemic...seems to rest on that unsupported, contrary to fact claim. – JEL Oct 10 '15 at 7:40
  • All the examples presented in the edit are not about grammar, but about literary criticism. And let's say that revisionist is judgemental, if you prefer a different term; clearly it represents someone's judgement, since the objective term is revision. the suffix -ist often refers to a a group member -- Stalinist, papist, irredentist, revisionist -- where the group is denoted by the root. In this case, revisionist is a term widespread in (mostly socialist and communist) groups referring to members who vary from The Party Line. Revision of dogma is forbidden. – John Lawler Oct 10 '15 at 13:51
  • The problem with the question I answered is that it seemed to presuppose that all the terms were simply descriptions of different kinds of grammar. That's not correct, at least not for the sense I presupposed, and mentioned in my answer: "(Presumably the grammar referred to is a real grammar, i.e, a list of structures, rules, and correlations for organizing the lexical items of one's language into grammatical sentences, and for analyzing the structures of others' sentences.)" – John Lawler Oct 10 '15 at 13:54
  • I've replaced the 'represented' examples with examples presumably more to your taste ('discrimnatory judgement'). Many more such examples can be produced. However, the question doesn't concern either metaphysical quibbles (the "real" or unreal status of various types of what are supportably called grammars), or contrary to fact claims about the necessary pejorative force of classes of words ending with -ism and -ist. The question asks, rather simply from my perspective, what one type of thing called a [revisionist] grammar is, ... – JEL Oct 13 '15 at 2:57
  • ... and how that usage of 'grammar' differs from uses of other terms also used to restrict the sense of 'grammars'. It goes beyond those questions only by asking how a particular media supports or undermines the different uses of the terms. It's a usage question: how is 'grammar' modified by the given various terms used to restrict the use of 'grammar' for a particular rather than a general use. I assume a good answer (or good answers) is beyond the scope of my abilities and available research tools, because I've been unable to answer it. – JEL Oct 13 '15 at 3:26

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