Thanks, Martha

You’ll be excited to know that tomorrow is National Grammar Day.

I can hear you woot-wooting from all the way over here.

And chances are, unless you have a reason to care, tomorrow might be like any other day. That is, of course, unless you’re into linguistics, which I happen to be. So in linguistic circles, the divide is between descriptivists and prescriptivists.

Did your mind just blank out? Hang in there.

Prescriptivists (think an MD’s awful writing) are people who think the language (really any language, though usually confined to English) has an objective, right way to be written and spoken. Some sort of golden tablet from God telling us when to avoid comma splices and how to connect subordinating clauses. These are the people who get uppity about incorrect punctuation and might interrupt you to draw attention to your use of real vs. really.

Descriptivists are more concerned with how people actually speak. Language in context- the variation, say, between a PhD in astrophysics explaining his latest black hole sighting and a welder talking with his buddies on bowling nite. Equally valid ways of speaking, none more correct than the other.

See that? “Nite”? SO not a prescriptivist term.

I’m somewhere in the middle. As a teacher of language with a graduate degree in linguistics, I kinda hafta care (hehe). I’ll admit to unsubscribing from blogs whose grammatical independence makes me cringe. And signs that advertise “strawberrys” get on my nerves. I’ll own it.

But the variance in dialects is fascinating (ok, maybe only for me).  Language is used for power, to create boundaries, to block people or enable people. Heck, we have a President who got elected ’cause he spoke nice.

So as I nerdily celebrate National Grammar Day with my Advanced Grammar class tomorrow, I’ll be sure and note the difference between the artistic stylings of Lindsay Lohan and the more rigid notes of Martha Brockenbrough.

‘Cuz I’s cool like dat.

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8 Responses to Thanks, Martha

  1. KathyB! says:

    Well, techinically I fall into the prescriptivist category. But there (like how I started the sentence with “but” ?) needs to be a middle category. For people like me who write as they speak. In fragments. But otherwise try to respect the laws of the written word.

    And I hate when people use real instead of really. My hubby did that for awhile when we were first married. After about 6 months he finally made the change, and I think that might be the rtrue reason we’re still together ; )

  2. wordlily says:

    I’m with you, trying to forge (or find?) a middle ground between descriptivism and prescriptivism. And celebrating National Grammar Day nonetheless. 🙂

  3. I’m with you on this one. As an ESL/EFL teacher, I do love all of those picky grammar rules. Grammar mistakes and misspellings on signs really get to me. As an Appalachian girl, I am glad that descriptive grammar is finding a place. It’s about time we start appreciating the double modal for what it is. Now, I might oughtta go get some work done!

  4. Ink says:

    Are there any presents involved in National Grammar Day? That might get some nongrammarian types excited about celebrating! Maybe we could give each other flash cards or something…

  5. antropologa says:

    I had to stop reading a blog where they had twins and she was always going on about the “babies naps” [sic sic sic!!!] and I couldn’t take it anymore.

  6. Gibby says:

    I am not sure which category I fall in. If I get an ad in the mail (especially those restaurants that send you their menus) and there is a typo, I toss it and won’t even think about going there. A flyer stuck in our mailbox with punctuation problems? In the trash. And I really hate it when I get an invitation with a typo. Yuck.

    However, I write exactly the way I talk. Which is so not prescriptivist. So, the question remains…Who the heck am I, anyways? LOL!

  7. faemom says:

    Linguistics *shudder* The class that kept me from applying to grad school. I salute your talents and knowledge. I think in this debate of who is who, I bet most of us are prescriptivists, but we enjoy breaking the rules. We hate when the rules are broken by someone who doesn’t know. We spent YEARS, people, learning this.

  8. Where my dad is from, they sometimes say, “We don’t hardly see him around anymore.” It’s a double negative, but somehow means the same thing as “We hardly see him around anymore.” My dad will also be cooking and tell people to “taste of it” or “smell of it” instead of just saying “taste it” or “smell it”. I like that kind of quirkiness. I got in the habit of saying “on accident” (compared to “on purpose”) as a child and my mom recently pointed out that I still don’t say it correctly (it should be “by accident”). Do you ever watch Jon & Kate plus 8? I can’t stand when Kate corrects Jon’s speech during their tv show. It’s so bitchy. I’m one to just let people talk and only get picky about grammar when mistakes reveal a lack of professionalism like Gibby points out in her comment about flyers and menus.

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