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rojo's avatar

What is your opinion on this article about the resurgence of grammar?

Asked by rojo (15549 points ) March 25th, 2014

Grammar Article

Quote from the article:
“The first and possibly most insidious barrier to grammar’s image is the trail of fear left behind by old-fashioned grammarians and their pedantic followers. Instead of explanations and advice, grammatical errors are often corrected with scorn and ancient rules. This can project a sense of inadequacy that isn’t conducive to learning, and perpetuates the misconception that grammar is black and white, right or wrong.”

How do you feel about the accuracy of this quote?

What are your feelings about the importance of grammar in language?

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20 Answers

LornaLove's avatar

I agree grammar should be creative and interesting for it to be fun enough for kids or even some adults to want to try. I do think that a lot of the ‘much older’ generation had very few subjects in those days and so pondered on whether a comma or an apostrophe should be used here or there.

These days kids have many more subjects and more demands.I used to feel that hard ruled grammar was a bit like playing tactical chess, As in boring. It somehow took the joy of literature away for me. I could not fly away to a land of imagination and pictures, I had to stare at words on a page.

At times though when I see beautifully written pieces, which is rare, I really understand how it makes whatever the person is saying come to life.

Less scorn more advice, even here on fluther would be better for those that were not really that interested in grammar at school but would like to learn now. When they are scornful they need to consider, we, for the most part are educated people and could knock their socks off with our various expertise, without the scornful attitude, hopefully.

JLeslie's avatar

I think it is important to get a handle on grammar now, because with each generation it will be harder. As the article points out, a lot of grammar is simply we know something sounds right or looks right, and we may not know why. If everyone around us is speaking and writing with poor grammar, it becomes harder to know what instinctively sounds or looks correct.

I believe an atmosphere of grammar correction in school and at home at young ages is important. If someone doesn’t get it at a young age, I think they are more likely to be defensive about their mistakes and not appreciate correction. It can go the other way where people who grew up with bad grammar seek to learn better grammar, but less likely in my opinion.

Sometimes there is such a thing as too much correcting and it can be annoying. It really depends on the circumstance.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Screw the rules. If I can get my point across and I am fairly articulate I’m happy.

JLeslie's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Without the rules people won’t be understood, that’s the problem.

ibstubro's avatar

English was my best subject and I majored in it in college. The rub? I hated and still hate grammer. I knew all that stuff instinctually, from reading, I didn’t want to diagram it.

I think there should be some focus on grammar in schools, but I agree that the hard old ‘black and white’ rules are probably obsolete. The problem is coming up with an alternate that works. As the US gets more and more multicultural, coming up with a workable grammar program is probably more and more important.

NPR just had a good piece on the necessity of cursive writing, too.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

@ibstubro Speaking of NPR, are you a member of P.O.E.M?

JLeslie's avatar

@ibstubro I don’t see what multicultural has to do with it? We have been plenty multicultural in places like NYC, DC, and many other cities for a very long time. English is English. You’re in the Midwest and most people around you probably speak well. Some parts of the US the grammar is terrible. My niece and nephew speak English very well, like natives, even though their first language is Spanish. Same with most Americans who go to primarily white schools with students who are middle class, even if their first language is a foreign one.

My high school was 40% minorities, primarily middle class. Everyone had a good command of English. Go to parts of the south, especially in black neighborhoods. People argue their dialect should be ok, but it isn’t going to help them make it in corporate America. Something should be done about it in my opinion. It puts the black children at a disadvantage. I have no problem with dialect use among friends and family, but it is important to know standard English.

ibstubro's avatar

I am not a member @Yetanotheruser. P.O.E.M. or NPR. I enjoy NPR but, quite honestly, it’s not a big factor in my life and if it disappeared, I’d be mildly annoyed, then just listen to KHBL exclusively instead of intermittently. But what is POEM?

ibstubro's avatar

Frankly, @JLeslie, unless you deny that there is a black culture, then we have no difference of opinion.

“As the US gets more and more multicultural, coming up with a workable grammar program is probably more and more important.”

Where did you veer off from that?

JLeslie's avatar

@ibstubro I misread your statement the first time. My mistake. We agree.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

I sort of agree with the article. Making grammar cool could help, but I think there should also be a degree of shame associated with poor use of grammar. While it may in fact be boring to learn the rules, there is no question that a well constructed sentence can hold devastating power. Incorrect use of grammar, quite simply, is inaccurate communication. It increases the mental load on the reader/listener as they struggle to assemble the thought in a coherent manner, and makes them pay less attention to the thought being conveyed.

As George Orwell said, “A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language is pertinent in this discussion.

I would love to see SMS style language disappear. Unfortunately the ease of typing properly on smartphones hasn’t led to a complete reversal of that trend, though they have helped.

rojo's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh great addition to the discussion. Thanks.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

@ibstubro P.O.E.M. (Professional Organization of English Majors) is a fictitious organization which is part of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion

As long as we speak a dynamic language, there are going to be rules, and the dialectical variations. English is (and historically has been) a very difficult language to speak even for native speakers. One example I have come across is the pronunciation of the word “ask” as “ax” or “aks”. Interestingly, the Urban Dictionary entry for “ax” as a pronunciation of “ask” refers to “ignorant” and “Ebonics”. However, there are instances of this pronunciation in Middle English. The Old English word “swung randomly between ascian and acsian”, according to this article by John McWhorter.

JLeslie's avatar

@Yetanotheruser Does an old English similarity justify using it when meeting with HR for a job at CBS? It does sound ignorant and it is Ebonics. The south is full of words and expressions that come from British roots that sound ignorant to the rest of the country. Not only black people, but white people use some of them as well.

The articles was interesting, and I really do understand how language is part of who you are. I think keeping the aks pronounciation for friends and family is fine. Just like my husband uses Spanish with his family, but conducts business in English. He makes a few mistakes now and then being ESL, but his English is better than some black people I know, and they were born and raised in America. It drives me crazy. One major problem is the word is spelled ask. In writing there is no fooling with it. This helps the person sound illiterate.

Many dialects grew from an overwhelming percentage of the community being illiterate. Another influence in America can be the community has a lot of people from a specific country who speak a foreign language. Most “mistakes” fade with the next generation, because the children are educated in American schools. However, sometimes when they are educated in ghetto schools they maintain the dialect and never learn to speak standard English well, and for the life of me I don’t understand how that can be. It happens in black communities and Hispanic, maybe others too. There is obviously a social class component to it, and social class cues can be regardless of race or ethnicity.

America doesn’t like to talk about race or class. All taboo subjects. There have been Q’s on fluther with people upset that someone would say there is such a thing as someone sounding black. If I am on the phone with someone who sounds black, I think there is a a greater than 90% chance they are. If they sound white, I have no idea if they are black, Vietnamese, Italian, Irish, Mexican, etc. I don’t picture someone using standard English as any particular race, ethnicity or nationality.

I know black people who consciously do not want to give in to the white people in power. They don’t want to dress like them and don’t want to speak like them. I guess as black people move up in the class structure they might have more influence on these things, even on what words evolve in our language, but I hate that it is scene as black vs. white. I don’t think white people see it that way, but I think some black people do. In my own experience I only find this way of thinking in the south, and I think it’s because of the financial and social divide being so great in many cities there.

morphail's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh rather than shame people who use “poor grammar”, why not recognize that there are different dialects and registers of English used in different contexts. There’s no reason to expect every kind of English to conform to the same standard. A different dialect or register isn’t inaccurate communication, it’s just different.

JLeslie's avatar

@morphel Some are different and some are incorrect for the rules we have today. People can learn both. They can speak and write in their dialect, and also speak and write in “standard” English. People all over the world learn a common language in their country and a dialect. They don’t seem to try to argue that their dialect is just as correct as the common language. They understand they one is separate from the other. Somehow a lot of the people in America don’t even know they are speaking in a dialect, even when their grammar is very different than what is taught in the books. That’s why a dialect can sound uneducated I guess. If it is far from what is taught in the books, it sounds like the person didn’t open the books.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@morphail I do recognise that there are different dialects, and individuals have different ways of expressing themselves. I’m Australian, and linguists say we speak the most complex form of English due to our extensive slang vocabulary. I get that it would be difficult for people from any other country to understand our national hero, the Honey Badger.

However a dialect should have means of communicating an idea just as effectively as the common tongue. What I was criticising above is poor English, which makes the information being conveyed difficult to understand. It is the verbal equivalent of confusing “their”, “there”, and “they’re”.

morphail's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh it seems to me what you’re saying is that some dialects are ok, and some dialects are “poor English” and cause miscommunication. I’m not convinced that there are some dialects that are worse for communication than other dialects. I’m not sure what the verbal equivalent of confusing “there” “they’re” and “their” would be. Confusing “there” “they’re” and “their” is a spelling error and I don’t think it would cause miscommunication.

I don’t see a point in shaming someone for using a different language than I do. Rather than teach students that there’s something wrong with them for not using the standard, teach them about register.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@morphail Not at all. I’m saying that some people are effective communicators, and some are not. Their attempt at language doesn’t rise to the level of being a dialect.

morphail's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh could you provide an example.

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