Thursday, June 23, 2011

Performing mouth to mouth on grammar

If you're looking for more language discourses topics in readiness for tomorrow's ENGA3 exam, this might be a good link to have a look at. One of the debates that's been knocking around for a long time (probably forever) is that around the seemingly inevitable decline in standards of English grammar among the general population and whether or not we should care. In this article, the author, Barbara Gunn, suggests we need to "resuscitate" grammar.

As an English teacher, I think grammar is important, but perhaps not for the same reasons that Barbara Gunn puts forward in her article. I can't help but shudder when I read someone using  your instead of you're, or there instead of their, but perhaps that's my inner prescriptivist crying out and I should learn to ignore it, a bit like I ignore the cat as it mewls for food seconds after being fed. Prescriptivists have complained about the general public's inability to use grammar properly ever since English came into existence, but is it actually getting any worse?

Henry Hitchings - whose book, The Language Wars I've plugged endlessly on here - makes the point that people have been confusing should have and should of and you were and you was since the 17th Century. Perhaps it's because more of us write now than ever before (tweeting, emailing, texting and even blogging all being new forms of "writing") that these grammatical errors/non-standard forms are being noticed more. Maybe we are becoming less literate. I dont no.

If you have a look through this blog for posts about grammar usage (usually tagged prescriptivism or descriptivism) you'll find a number of articles about Simon Heffer's (appalling) Strictly English, and the Queen's English Society's most recent musings on our language going to the dogs, along with some descriptivist critiques of their arguments. As you're having a look at these, you'll probably notice the familiar models that Jean Aitchison pointed out in her classic Language Web lectures: the crumbling castle, the damp spoon and the infectious disease.