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June 25, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Grammar: An Elitist Convention

By Goldilocks More Blogs by This Author

  You know those people who say “melk” instead of milk? Aren’t those people so annoying? What about them just pushes our buttons? Perhaps it is the way they walk around all smug thinking that the way they pronounce that word is correct when really they are wrong, just wrong. It’s infuriating. I know.

Too bad I say melk.

Melk, in all of it's bone-building glory.  

What if I told you people used to not just say melk but molk, and mulk, and malk? Suddenly the slight shortening of the vowel doesn’t seem so awkward or horrible next to these offenders! This is a mutiny of vocabulary! An abomination!

Such things should not be stood for.

What about it rings so wrong in our ears? Why does it strike such a cord when we’re having such a pleasant conversation that we feel the need to stop the other person short and remind them of the proper way to say that word? I mean correct English is important right? Right??

Taking a look back at the history of the English language, you’d see a convoluted past of twists, turns, conquerors, poets, priests, monks, kings and queens. English, in its barest bones, is a Germanic language. Back in the 11th century though, the Normans, a French speaking people, crossed the English channel and swept across England. Soon, there was an England that consisted of the poor speaking English and the wealthy speaking French. This couldn’t go on forever. Eventually, the languages fused together – to the point that the whole construction of English changed. The very way we construct sentences shifted from a German construct to a French. (Thus, for years, English was actually considered a Romantic language – a derivative of French.) The newly found conquerors found themselves knowing just enough English to swear to becoming fluent in this new hybrid in a matter of generations. A huge jump for an entire language in such a short time span! And so this new language flourished until the Renaissance with the introduction of Modern English – which means, with only minor setbacks, you can read what Shakespeare actually wrote in his own writing.

Modern day English was born!

Well, sort of. English, for much of this time, was not regulated. Spelling? Hardly important. The dictionary as we know it wasn't compiled and written until 1604... and it still paled in comparison to the way other European languages documented and standardized their languages. For the most part, definitions were more important for words English stole from Latin or French. Actual English words were not included.

The standard needed to be set, education was spreading and more and more people were able to read and to write. Something had to be done to make sure that they could all understand each other. Whose accent then, whose spelling, was correct? Pronunciation, which is spoken spelling, is regionally dictated. Depending on where you go in the English speaking world you will find a myriad of ways to pronounce different words. Yet, more often than not, these words are spelled the same way.

Who won?

The people with money of course. The people who bought books were the ones who picked what the spelling was. Despite being a minority in the English speaking world, these wealthy few were the ones who printed books, bought books, and then read them. Then made other people read them – in the correct accent. English finally had its standard, and it was the standard of wealth. This is not a surprising turn of events. Most things in life are dictated by those in power. Fashion is one of the common industries that relies on the whims of the rich and since education has become so widespread and considered by many as a basic human right we don't really consider the implications of which dialect, accent, or structure of language we teach. We don't consider the origin of spelling or of pronunciation and we place special emphasis on being able to “sound” polished and correct, judging others that do not have the standard way of speaking.

It is important to have a standard. Denying that is foolish. Without syntax, or how we construct sentences, we would float around in an endless sea of confusion, drowning in split infinitives and sentence fragments. Sentence structure is there to promote communication, to make it efficient and similar enough that we can all understand each other without too much difficulty. It is the skeletal system of any language.

The problem arises when structure becomes cement. When it's new, it's adjustable. When it's old and dry? The only way to make it move is to break it. Grammar should not be the mold that needs to be broken, grammar should be the tools we use to create something new and wondrous. It shouldn't bind us to old and outdated constructions and terms that can bog down a modern writer. If writing, if speaking, is about getting a thought across space and time to another person's mind, having them receive that information and interpret it in a way similar to the way you intended them to... why would we limit ourselves to mere tradition? Simply because something has been done a certain way for a certain length of time doesn't mean it is the most efficient or effective way to do it anymore. We wouldn't use a dial up connection on our computers if we had access to high speed.

Looking at it differently

When we adhere to grammar simply because we are told it is the “right” way to do something, what does that say about our acceptance of language? It's a bit lazy, it's a bit elitist, it's a bit close-minded. When we look at someone we disagree with, we start to notice all the little things that annoy us about them. How they do their hair, the small stain on their jacket, we look them over in intense critical detail; looking, hunting, for something to use against them to refute the point that so upsets us. We look for things we consider to be sloppy, lazy, signs of stupidity, or foolishness. What we don't think while we're analyzing is just how lazy we are being when we rely on this tactic to prove someone's point wrong.

Grammar is a tool. Grammar can make a point poorly articulated, but it cannot deny the truth or substance of an idea. It has little effect on the idea as a whole, the only effect it has is how you interpret it. Brilliance is not limited to one viewpoint, one channel, one way of writing. Breaking free of conventional grammar takes guts. It takes inspiration. Grammar sometimes needs to be broken to get across what someone is feeling or thinking. We don't think in carefully constructed, grammatically correct sentences. We don't feel that way. So why should we be limited to writing that way?

Lazy or realistic?

Now, you're probably asking about the lazy people who just don't care enough to use grammar. They're the ones you think are horrible right? You had to learn all those comma rules, and damn it, they should use those comma rules! The problem with this is that they might have never learned the rules. Is that really fair? To judge someone who hasn't learned the rules of the game for playing poorly? I mean, who even told you where to add commas? Your tenth grade English teacher? And where did she learn to place commas? Her English teacher?

Notice anything wrong with this picture?  

How you use grammar and language in reality isn't included.  

All you know of the propriety of grammar was instilled in you by someone else. It irritates you to see someone use it differently, not because you don't understand what they are trying to say, but because somewhere down the line, someone told you that it was wrong. And you believed them.

It's time to stop all the bickering. It's time to stop the glorification of the grammar Nazi. These things limit our creativity as a species. Ingenuity should be applauded, not the ability to point out minute flaws as if they were international crimes against humanity. When we write, especially on the internet, we write informally. We write the way we speak. This reflects in our broken sentences and staccato words. We want to convey emotion. Shock. We want to reflect reality with our words and grammar doesn't really allow us to do that.

It isn't about where to place the comma anymore. Comprehension has never been singularly dependent on grammar or spelling. When we look at an incorrectly spelled word, most often we know what the message is supposed to be. We understand the mistake but it doesn't affect our ability to translate the symbols to meaning. When there is genuine confusion, we seek clarification. Clarification that will likely not be in complete, fully formed sentences. Language is about communication. What is often perceived by us as laziness can be efficiency. What we see as stupidity might be phonetically correct spelling that aids in understanding. There isn't a wrong way to write. There isn't a wrong way to spell. There is only more and less efficient ways of communicating.

Adaptation

Our world is changing. Our language is changing. It only makes sense that our way of constructing it would too. Grammar cannot remain in the past if it is going to be any use to us as a culture. We must learn to look past “errors” and see a world of possibility. A world of creative freedom that promotes not adhering simply to tradition but instead looks at language as the living breathing creation that it is.

Just think. Every time you write something down, you are participating in the growth of your language. Why would you ever want to limit that?  

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