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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Thoughts on Proper Grammar

I would like to thank my friend and ex-student Olivia Smalley Parks for writing a great blog entry. I think she makes some very good points while she subtly teases about respecting conventions in facebook writing. I want to include her entire piece in this entry. Enjoy her writing. You will find it both entertaining and informative. I think she thoroughly covers a topic dear to our hearts.
Thoughts on Proper Grammar and New Words Why do I feel compelled on facebook to type in "proper" English instead of just going with the flow? Is this a sign that I had too many red marks on my papers in school? Am I afraid that my high school writing teacher will secretly think, "Geez, I guess she didn't hear a word I said!"? (Love ya, Mr. T!) Am I afraid everyone is going to think I am an idiot because I write like I speak? Who knows? As my sister put it, facebook is "like an alternative universe... the rules just don't apply." Well, for some people, maybe. Apparently not for me. So as of now, I am declaring that the rules don't apply for me either! Bad spelling, bad grammar, who cares? After all, all of those ridiculous grammar rules we learned in school most likely originated from some person trying to describe the language as it was spoken at a specific period in history. Who determined the standard? What part of the country were they living in? (I bet they weren't from the deep South!) What type of education did they have? Why must we insist on abiding by these somewhat arbitrary standards? Do I think the formal grammar rules are useful? I think they could be useful for someone trying to learn English or for someone in academia who wants to judge people based on his knowledge of a topic rather than on his grammar. (Or is that what they're really judging? hmmm.) I recall writing research papers in high school for which we had to use "proper grammar". (Writing "for which" just made my skin crawl. Possibly because I would never speak that way.) I am fairly sure that our teachers were well rested after "reading" those papers! So why not just write about the topics the same way we would speak about them? What's wrong with that? Well, in the high school setting, they were preparing us for success in the post secondary world. A world in which there are no dangling participles and you may never, ever end a sentence with a preposition. (oops, I think that was a fragment!) The truth is, many college professors would rather not sift through your Appalachian accent to get to the meat of your writing. They just want to know if you understand the topic at hand. For me, this is extremely boring writing! So why not just say, "The heck with your rules, academia!"? Practically speaking, I think some folks would have a hard time finding a job or getting into certain college programs. I think it boils down to people having elitist attitudes and the status quo. These wonderful grammar rules are practiced by educated people, so it may be that in their minds, the individuals who choose not to abide by them do not measure up. Whatever happened to the rules being used to describe what was spoken? Why insist on using the rules of grammar in a prescriptive manner and thus alienate part of society that may have something profound to say? Practically speaking, it is nice to know when reading where one sentence ends and another begins, where to pause, and what to emphasize with the use of punctuation. It's also nice to be able to read a passage fluently because the author was attentive to how the passage would be interpreted by the reader. But these preferences don't even begin to delve into the briarpatch of proper grammar we had to learn in school. I would much rather leave it to the linguists to describe the ever-changing rules of spoken language. Why insist on using the outdated rules from some specific slice of culture/history to frame writing today? Write the same way you speak. Want to see individuality? I bet you'd see it! After having said this, I now throw caution to the wind! I don't care whether the facebook world thinks I'm a grammatical nightmare! You want to hear "voice" in writing? Well, here ya go! As a side note, whose job is it to come up with new words anyway? My husband loves to poke fun at me because occassionally I'll throw a new word at him. He just gives me this you-are-TOTALLY-NUTS look and snickers under his breath. (So I'm a little eccentric...) If you hang around a child between the ages of 2 and 9, you are bound to hear a few new words. (...or I'm just immature) Have you ever listened to Tigger on Winnie the Pooh? (There's a grammatical train wreck!) Over 100 new words were added to Merriam-Webster's dictionary last year (2008), so we know someone is making up new words. So, what credentials must one have to coin a new word? My thought that it is part of our makeup is to invent new words. As a believer in the Biblical God of creation, I have read that man was created in God's image. In addition, God directed Adam to name the animals. Considering that there are over 1 million words in the English language alone, I would reasonably assume that He programmed into all of us a little of that creative nature. With this in mind, I now challenge you, my facebook friends, to thrive in this world without grammatical rules and to go on a word-making inventure. (Don't bother looking it up on It's not there!) Do not be ashamed. Use your new words. Share them with the world!!! By Olivia Smalley Parks
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