Today’s Lesson in Grammar/Semantics
From your favorite Tumblr English teacher
Hey everyone, remember our linguistics discussion from a few weeks/days ago? About how it is completely messed up to impose strict, rigid laws on language, since language is a fluid thing used to communicate, and changes with the current customs and trends, history and ideology?
Well this guy doesn’t agree. See, he starts off on the right foot (even that’s a dated linguistic term, because it originated at a time when people considered the left side of everything to be sinister (which means left in Latin) and dark), condemning the assholes who run around correcting people for saying “your” instead of “you’re” and using the wrong “there/they’re/their”.
But then—and this would be funny if it didn’t make me want to punch him in the face—he does the same thing as the people he just attacked, outlining a large handful of nit-picky grammar rules that very few people give a shit about because hey, making the mistakes he’s talking about? Doesn’t impede communication at all in most cases. And since the point of language is communication… do you see where I’m going with this?
This guy—whoever he is. I don’t know, because a friend of mine found this video and this is just my preliminary reaction to it—is condescending and insulting, and completely and utterly wrong about what it means to use the English language properly.
As we’ve discussed, trying to impose very stringent rules on language is… oppressive. I don’t want to use that word, because it’s so strong, but that really is what it is. Do you know, for example, how demeaning it must be to be learning English—whether it’s your native language or not—and to be told, “Hey, you’re completely fucking stupid if you can’t grasp these basic rules”? Do you know how much shame and embarrassment contribute to someone’s difficulty in being able to learn a language?
I’m going to venture to say, based on what I know about my followers, that most of you know a second language or have at least taken foreign language classes in school. I’m sure you have some pretty painful memories of times when you just kept bumbling, messing up basic things that you knew you knew, and feeling like you were making a fool of yourself. Can you imagine if, at that moment, you had someone standing over you saying, “Wow, you should really know better than to make that mistake. What’s wrong with you?”
Especially because, as we know, English is one of the most difficult languages to learn. English is a beautiful, awkward hodge-podge of stolen grammatical fragments and appropriated words. And it’s a bitch to learn. For anyone. Native English speakers can also struggle a lot with the language, okay, because some people have trouble grasping grammar rules intuitively. I have no idea what that’s like, but I know enough people who do. So to say—as this guy does—that there are rules you should just know because you were raised speaking English? That’s so incredibly insulting.
And of course, non-native English-speakers (how many hyphens—fuck it)? Okay, say you’re living in a foreign country where people don’t tend to be bilingual. Say it’s America, because it is in this case. Yeah, we now have a lot of signs and such in Spanish, and in major cities you also see signs in Polish or Chinese, or whatever other language a lot of people speak. But say you live in a small town. In my hometown, for example, everything’s in English and everyone speaks English. We’re close to NYC, but we’re not in NYC. Imagine if you’re trying to learn English while living here. It could be an incredibly isolating experience if you don’t meet people who are willing to help you and have patience with you. A number of my friends here learned English as a second language, and luckily they were in a supportive environment. But what if they hadn’t been?
So you know what, jackass, you can take your Rules of the Motherfucking English Language and [you know where this is going]. The best thing about language, and the thing that has pushed me to learn as many as I can, is that they’re so malleable, which allows for incredible subtlety of thought and communication. They change according to simple evolution of language, according to history (we have invented so many new words to talk about computers and the Internet; how do the rules apply to that?), according to ideology (I’m thinking of political jargon here), etc.
Language is the most purely democratic thing (I say thing a lot…) I know precisely because we can change it at will in order to better suit our needs. Perhaps I’m being extreme when I say this, but people like this guy want to make language into an autocracy, a dictatorship of those privileged enough to have the Right Background that allows them to collect and cherish these rules he lists. And to him I say fuck you very much, because it is not the place of one person, or one group of people, or anyone to try to take away the amazing freedom of language. Rules have utility to be sure. But let’s not confuse the rules—the means of language—with the ends of communication. As soon as you unduly restrict language, you restrict thought, and when you restrict thought, you restrict freedom, and then where are you? Not somewhere I want to be.