Friday, June 1, 2012

Grammar, Shmammar

Dear Madame L,

What's with all the stuff about grammar and punctuation? As if you think you know more than anyone else! As if people who don't write the same way you do are somehow inferior! 

Give me a break,

Descriptive, Not Prescriptive

Dear Descriptive,

Madame Elle gets that you're actually quite the grammarian, yourself; and cedes you this point:

Using the standard or correct forms of grammar and punctuation does not make Madame Elle, or you, or anyone, superior to those who do not use those forms. 

However, it makes us all more readable and understandable to each other. In fact, it sometimes makes a legal difference, as in the use of commas. (Madame L will write more about the use of commas in legalese, or what she sometimes calls Legalish, in a future post.)

If you want to read a lengthy article by the renowned linguist Steven Pinker on this very topic (Wait! You, "Descriptive, Not Prescriptive," HAVE read it, haven't you! That's what prompted you to write your letter. Is Madame L correct about that?), go for it. 

If you don't want to read that lengthy article, Madame L hereby summarizes it for you:  

     ---While so-called and self-proclaimed grammarians throughout the history of the modern English language have claimed to know what is correct and have taken great glee in correcting those who don't write correctly (these are the prescriptive grammarians), more contemporary grammar experts have been more interested in describing the way people actually speak and write (these are the descriptive grammarians). 

     ---Pinker himself, as the ultimate expert (in part because he is a Harvard linguistics professor), can parse any sentence, decipher any treatise, and dethrone any claimant to the throne of linguistic expert; and he does all that in the essay. 

     ---He's king of the linguistics mountain, winner of the so-called "language wars," and when people think otherwise it's only because they're ignorant, uneducated, misinformed, and/or presumptuous. Pinker even dares make fun of Strunk & White!

Madame L thinks George Orwell's essay, "Politics and the English Language," covers all the important points, and does it better, than anything Pinker et al. have ever written. Madame L will share Orwell's essay with all her Dear and Gentle Readers in an upcoming post.

Meanwhile, Madame L hopes you'll continue to use the language correctly, not because it will make you feel superior to or appear smarter than your fellow human beings but because it will help you be understood bettter by them.


Madame L 

1 comment:

AskTheGeologist said...

Wait! You conceded the point to that Grimarg-ian, insufferable twit-ship? I wouldst fain flog 'im around the fleet.

Hey - how 'bout a review of Globish, now that you've broached the subject?