“The point of traditional grammar was to demonstrate a way of thinking about grammatical problems that encouraged thoughtful attention to language, not to canonize a set of arbitrary rules and strictures” -Nunberg
I have never been interested in grammar, and the little experience I’ve had with it has led me to ignore it until recently. Yet there is something fascinating about the idea of fixed rules on the structure of language, and an awareness of the logic behind such rules will undoubtedly contribute to clear writing. I feel that in order to make grammar interesting, (we, you, I) should explore as many perspectives possible on the subject. If grammar can be presented in a less rigid context, students may come to consider it as a tool that examines language in order to arrive at clear expression. Grammar should instill the purpose that, if used properly, it can enhance language to a high degree.
My aim therefore is to take the notion of grammar and integrate it into the study of the English language in a way that gives real value to its usage. In other words, present grammar as a tool within itself to be useful when (one) composes. Rather than a ‘set of arbitrary rules’ it should be seen as a way to visualize words and structure and explore variability of arrangements that constitute clear sentence construction.
Language ‘rules’ should not be the enforcer and crusher of expressional dreams. Mistakes in grammar should not be punishable by law, they should instead instigate interest into the usage of words and structures. Grammar should focus on the actual feel of sentence construction, so that mistakes are perceived in a manner more useful than a red X.
One thought on “Language Regulation”
Kyle, I appreciate your sentiment that grammar ought to be regarded by students as more than an arbitrary set of criteria by which all English speakers must comply. I would disagree, however, that it is not arbitrary; I think it is equally important to emphasize that while grammar is not an arbitrary set of criteria, it is, indeed, an arbitrarily chosen set of criteria. By that I mean that the rules of grammar often have logic behind them, but that those rules were chosen arbitrarily over others in the interest of clarity.
I think it is very important to emphasize this intention of promoting clarity. Perhaps this would be best suited by addressing the point of writing to an audience both early and often. There is, after all, a very clear discrepancy between the colloquialisms we often use in casual speech and the lofty tone in academic writing. If we feel we communicate clearly in normal speech, why do we need such specific grammar rules? Of course the sort of things we normally talk about in academics would be difficult to do justice with casual speech, but oftentimes students are asked to write about inane things using academic language. The usage of grammar may seem pointless to students unless it is very clear that these assignments are partially practice for when they are asked to write to an academic audience about something more complex down the road.
Overall, I sympathize very much with your concern about grammar being known as a set of arbitrary rules and nothing more; the sentiment is not one unique to you. I do, however, think you need to be careful with how you address this issue. It is important to ensure that students know, with clarity, why it is important to use proper grammar beyond submission to an arbitrary standard, not just that it is not only an arbitrary standard. Language may be an ever-shifting, untenable construct, as was pointed out in the text, but for now we have a set of conventions we’ve agreed upon that facilitate clear communication, and it is crucial for the purpose of this standard to be understood.