Monday, March 24, 2008

Why Do We Study Grammar?

That is the question a high-school freshman asked a seasoned editor. She follows it up with, "What is the point of writing correctly than many of us speak?"

The editor, James J. Kilpatrick, gives his answer in this article. Some quotes:

"What is the point of writing "correctly"? One point, surely, is to avoid being misunderstood...if we ignore the rules of grammar, we likely will draft ambiguous laws, preach soggy sermons, and attach the dormer to the door."

"Ah, but a good writer's life is a life of disciplined freedom. (That is an oxymoron. You could look it up.) Successful writers, whether professional or amateur, have to live not only by the rules of grammar and spelling and syntax, but also by one rule that tops them all: Know Thy Reader!"


Blogger Sean said...

I've always assumed that we study grammar to help make sure that we are properly understood. I mean, we live a life where we are constantly called upon to interact with people -- it would therefore be important to make sure that they can understand everything that we say or write to them. To me, spelling and grammar is an essential component of my self-expression: I wouldn't be able to communicate to people both properly and effectively if I don't constantly try to improve my grammar.

12:23 AM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Hi, Sean. But have you noticed how languages change? The English of Shakespeare used to be the way everyone back in England spoke. The English spoken there today is far different. It's closer to other Englishes around the world now than it is to its historical past. Likewise, what was considered bad english, like "ain't", I've heard is slowly gaining acceptance. Any language being used is evolving, based on how it's spoken, read, and written. Our proper grammar may be archaic, in time (I'm only afraid that it'll be replaced by text-jargon).

12:16 AM  
Blogger Sean said...

Languages do change, yes. But I don't think that they change about as fast as we might think. We get little more than a few new words added to the English language each year, for example, and it usually takes about a decade or so before we see visible changes in the general vernacular. At such a slow rate, we can easily keep up with the changes in grammar as long as we remain active in writing and speaking. Our English today may be quite different from Shakespeare's time, but it's still quite similar to what our parents saw back when they were our age... slang notwithstanding.

That said, well... who's to say that we have to stick to a single set of grammatical rules? If the future does involve words like "ain't", then we have the opportunity to absorb them right now; if txtspeak will eventually be considered a viable form of communication (perish the thought), then we at least have the chance to study it in its infancy. Just as I feel that the grammaticists need to keep up with current changes, so does the modern generation need to get familiar with our more archaic rules. It's all a matter of seeking proper communication, I think.

1:30 AM  

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