All posts by Caroline Gerard

Grammar is Language, and Language is more than Words

While grammar, when isolated, appears to be a dry, monotonous subject, I believe through different lenses we can jump start conversations that are relevant to most facets of the practical world.

Take for example, the idea of how we label people, places, events… The language we use is critical in forming the perception of these subjects.
We can use “softer” words to describe a horrible occurrence, for the sake of formality, or sparing emotions. We can extenuate a person’s characteristics to make them appear more qualifies for a position.

Are these moves wrong, morally or in terms of correctly using language? I say no, as long as we, and those on the receiving end, are aware and able to distinguish the fine line we must be careful not to cross. It may be acceptable to describe a person who is “quiet” as “introverted,” but what about “anti-social,” “off-putting,” or “inattentive?” There is a a new connotation that is conveyed.

Now the relation to grammar is that this occurs in a similar way, but on a different scale. Contractions for example, are often frowned upon in formal writing, so while they may be naturally part of the writers “style,” they must become conscious of the message they are sending. Just as incorrect grammar and punctuation can convey incorrect information ( take the classic ” Let’s eat Grandma!”), it can imply incorrect tone or cause the reader to stray from the message that was intended.

I mentioned all of this may seem less grueling through a different lens, so let’s/ let us look at the psychological implications of these issues. It’s commonly thought that language can structure the way people think. Just look at the ideas around the social and professional exclusion of certain racist/homophobic/medically misused words. Other than the pressures of our peers, how did these taboos and active language choices come to be? The root would appear to be in the attempt to reshape the way society as a whole feels and acts towards groups of people; to change how we think. 

In terms of grammar, I’s sure people will say things about how an Oxford comma certainly can not battle sexism, and that an incorrect there/their/they’re moment will not inspire a generation, but to them I say why not? Without even beginning to delve into the idea of encouraging different writing styles than the accepted “white man’s” English, it can be argued that knowledge of grammar is part of the whole package, and it is amazing how subtle something can be while still making an impact.

It is part of human nature to judge, make assumptions, and categorize different aspects of our lives. Some see it as a flaw, while it actually stems from survival instincts. So, we must learn (and teach) to play the game of writing based on purpose, with attention to the grammatical choices we make.