Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

On Grammatical Correctness

Over on Confessions of a Recovering Choir Director, there's an interesting letter from a 'Russian rite emigrant. Of course, what I noticed was the comments about the "grammatically correct" phrase, 'up with which I will not put'.

Well, there's grammar and then there's grammar. Frankly, there are many grammar rules taught in English class which are far from being correct English grammar. But then, "American Standard English" is not English as she is really spoken; it's English as it's useful to pretend we speak and write. It is the job of an English teacher to preserve structures which, on the whole, are no longer in use and no longer easily intelligible. In many cases, we never used them. Many grammar rules are derived from Latin usage and were imposed on English, and grammar students, in an attempt to "improve" style.

For example, English has always been able to end sentences with prepositions, from Old English on. It's one of English's more useful and beautiful quirks. And what's really wrong with "ain't" as an abbreviation for "am not"? It's not any uglier or younger than "won't" or "don't".

But in American Standard English, it is correct to observe and teach nonsensical rules. It is important to preserve a formal dialect that all English speakers and readers can understand. If that means kids have to learn the now-reversed meanings of "will" vs. "shall", or non-phonetic spellings -- well, so be it. That is the sort of thing up with which members of a civilization must put.

Just don't call it "correct". It's wrong as heck. The real rules of speaking English are being abused by such a malformation of the tongue. But it's "standard", we have to know it, and sometimes formality makes us use it. That's good enough.

Dr. Language on ending a sentence with a preposition, the second person plural, 'This is she', and ain't.


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