I get some flack about grammar and misspellings, sometimes deserved, often not. I do welcome it in a funny way, I learn more and I’m cool with that. Sometimes I do mess about, misspell on purpose, it’s perverse I know – goading people who are looking at what I type for all the wrong reasons. I can’t resist!
The grammar police
There are two types of grammar police though. There are sticklers – these are the true grammar police – people who just cannot stand any slip-up – even in a channel like Twitter, they’re probably a bit OCD in some way, it pains them. They’re defenders of the Queen’s English, and they’re not having someone like me not getting it right. Then there are the trolls – these lot will abuse me no matter, typos and grammar are a low bar and easy for them to hurl abuse – these are the ones I like to goad, as unlike the sticklers they’re most often stupid, easy to call out and easy fodder. Anyway, back to the point. When I get stick for grammar I regularly think to myself, who sets and maintains the rules for grammar – who is it that’s in charge? Who am I upsetting exactly?
So, who’s English is it anyway?
Who’s grammar are we (me) being measured against? Who allows new words that the public already use (without approval) to be suddenly “official”? Who has the power and authorises the change? Is there a secret group under Buckingham Palace, do those people still write with quills maybe? I ask this because the English language evolves all the time, new words get accepted into the dictionary and what was the norm changes fast. It kinda makes sense too when you think how many people speak English – after all – how do you possibly police it? I think that there are different perspectives on grammar – there cannot be one absolute – my sense is that if enough people use a word, or change how words are used in a context or alter how sentences are structured – then it’ll become the norm, it has to, no matter what the Queen or the grammar police think. It’s common sense?
It’s got to be a case of perspective?
From a historical perspective the English language has only ever changed…
- Caveman didn’t speak English but they kicked verbal dialogue off – they’re the true grammar police, surely!?
- Ye Olde England used words that don’t make any sense at all – the early English folk probably have the most right to tell us how to speak, though not according to the current experts. Interesting that, isn’t it?
- Shakespeare invented words – including the word ‘puking’ - the public at the time then adopted those words, I bet that upset the grammar police at the time?
- What about the youth generation of today, the people who talk all txt spk – they’ve no time for long words and they’re the next generation – do you think they’re going to conform, doubt it?
So what can we conclude from this perspective? It’s common sense – our language is not owned, it never has been, it’s not policeable over a few years let alone a few hundred. It’s certainly evolving faster than ever because of the volume of people openly communicating on new devices and in new channels, like Twitter.
Regional or class based perspective
- The working class, and let’s face it – there are more of them, have specific ways of expressing themselves, and they wouldn’t change that. Regionally there are also different dialects and ways to construct sentences, there are even specific words used in those regions that make grammar even more complicated
- On an international level, it’s naive to think that (like the Americans) countries who increasingly adopt English (the Chinese), won’t change or influence it. Look how American spelling of words is creeping in to the UK, it’s inevitable when the majority communicate a certain way in a connected digital world
So, who’s English is it, exactly – and who’s “right” when it comes to use of the English grammar, introducing new words or changes in international spelling? Did you know that we only use a limited number of words anyway, I once read that 200 basic words is all you need in ANY language to just get by, sure you’re not going to win a literary award, but it makes you wonder why we need as much as another 170,000. The reality is that it’s all pomp and ego, maybe to control and show a level of intelligence maybe, I don’t know. The fact is that the world’s changing and evolving, we’re multi-cultural, multi-lingual and now digital. And, at any point in our country’s history it has only even been changing, evolving (albeit much slower), multi-cultural and multi-lingual. Funny that.
What’s your take? As usual… let me know in the comments…