Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Misuse of the English Language

I wasn't taught grammar and spelling at school - well, other than the basics. I did learn about verbs and nouns and I participated in spelling tests. However, because I read a great deal, I developed strong writing skills and so, when the teacher would gather the class for an intensive session on grammar, I'd be sent to the back of the room with a good book. I was perceived as possessing good skills already. There was no need to meddle with that.

Not that I always employ good grammar. (Shhhhh.)

However, I am always amused by the insistence on right and wrong ways to use the English language. The history of the English language seems to suggest that right and wrong ways are always changing, always evolving, making any certainty uncertain at best.

I wish I was in London to catch the 'Evolving English' exhibition at the British Library. Mark Brown at the Guardian picked up on one of the great exhibits: "If u really r annoyed by the vocabulary of the text generation, then a new exhibition at the British Library should calm you down. It turns out they were doing it in the 19th century – only then they called it emblematic poetry, and it was considered terribly clever." I hesitate to provide this information to students in English Lit. Think of the potential chaos if they all start using text language on exams and insist they're really just being super clever and using 'emblematic poetry'.

I'm not even smiling a bit as I write that. (There is more to emblematic poetry than its similarity to a text message, in any case.)

I always find Jasper Fforde to be my favourite go-to-person for grammar and spelling related issues - I like the idea of Verbisoids, Noun Fish and Converiblators.

In the end, though, it is important to get the language right according to current standards. It's something we all learn as we pursue careers in English Literature. Understanding how language works and is utilised is part of our business.

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