iv. grammar matters (?)

Call me crazy, but I love grammar. In every form. Each of the 5 ways Patrick Hartwell describes in his essay “Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar.” Anything structure- and usage-related are so fascinating to me.

I love critiquing it… I love employing its rules (and breaking them)… I love learning it… heck, I even love learning grammar of other languages and seeing how they compare to English…

No matter how many times my friends tell me learning conversational Korean is easier by watching dramas and not by studying the intensive grammar rules of the language, I will still geek out over the latter activity.

Just as I understood both sides of the argument for voice, as presented in Peter Elbow’s “Voices in Writing,” so too do I see the merit of both sides of The Grammar Issue. Honestly, the two topics go hand in hand, don’t they? Or rather… go at each others’ throat. [Totally random, but do y’all think “throat” or “throats” is more appropriate in this sentence? While there are more than one metaphorical throats in the situation, it’s just one throat each… So like… What’s the dealio…]

Anyway. The expressiveness of voice v. the technicalities of grammar. Who’s right? Who’s more important? Is there an appropriate balance?

Regarding that last question, I believe there is. Scholars and professors debate about the need for “formal language” in academic papers–arguably for the purpose of snob-nosed elitism rather than comprehensiveness in writing, but that’s neither here nor there–and with that, the rigidity of formal grammar rules and word usage.

While I agree that a certain amount of clarity in language is necessary in academia, I feel like the stress professors/teachers put on student to adhere to those rules is too much and too severe should the student fail to do so. I’d rather not say “fail” in this instance, but you get what I mean.

So back to that balance. When a person strives to follow every single grammar rule thrown at them, it’s a) daunting because even when you fix a sentence to follow one rule, you’re probably breaking three other obscure ones in the process, b) discouraging that the focus isn’t on the content but the means in which it’s presented, and c) damn boring.

Ya gotta throw a lil spice into your writing once in a while. Honestly, in all my past research papers, I feel like I’ve attempted to change sentences around, bend the rules, throw in some spice and humor.

Whether or not I’ve succeeded is another matter entirely.

But anyway, the attempt is there. Academics can be boring enough as is, so come on y’all. Loosen up a bit. The world is too serious, throw a joke into your dissertation. An “ain’t” into the mix, a “gonna” in that intro, and a “fjdlsjfkld” into that struggle of a conclusion.

That last one is a bit extreme. Save that for Twitter.

So, tl;dr, balance, my friends. Grammar is important for clarity, surely, but–… oh. A thought just hit me. I’m drawn back to my last blog post about multilingualism and writing. Adherence to specific, base grammar rules makes for easier translation, easier understanding for those whose native language may not be the one used in the paper, and easier sharing/spreading of information because of that understanding.

Hoo boy. Talk about flip-flopping an opinion. Let’s move on before I change my mind again.

I’ve mentioned how, in the writing center, our focus isn’t on grammar. It’s on the content, while grammar usually stays by the wayside, chilling while we sort out the Big Issues first.

I try to ignore it while it sits over there, just in my periphery, staring and giving a little wiggly wave every now and again.

I succumb to the temptation to point out a necessary comma sometimes. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone.

We’re not supposed to teach in the writing center. We’re supposed to nudge the student to use the knowledge they already have. But of course, we end up teaching a little bit sometimes. It just happens.

And honestly, when it does happen, the one thing that I hate about “teaching” grammar is the terminology. Comma splices, appositives, pluralization, possessiveness, verb-tense agreement, parallelism… It can get jargon-y very quickly. So it’s tricky figuring out how much jargon-y explanation is necessary (and if the student is willing to hear it all).

Alright, I’m just gonna point out One More Thing from Hartwell’s paper, because I was Literally just thinking about this recently: the unspoken rule that is the order of adjectives. Under the header of “The Grammar in Our Heads” (p.111), Hartwell takes into account our Grammar 1 knowledge.

For years, I didn’t know it was a rule to order adjectives a certain way. I just… did it. “The four young French girls.” That’s exactly the way I ordered the given words in my head. Number, age, nationality. I recall seeing a longer list somewhere on the internet, and maybe I’ll find it before I post this… {I found it.} Or maybe I’ll tweet it out. {Boom, baby.} Or both. Regardless, it was mind blowing.

And it’s so fascinating how any rearrangement of that order just makes it sound… wrong. And how, when analyzed, the order can completely change the concept of the sentence. Fancy subtly nuanced grammar stuff. Wowie. I wonder if there’s a purpose to the order, and how it came about. Pretty sure people didn’t just realize what sounded the least awkward when giving several descriptive words to a thing.

Hm. Food for thought.

Alrighty. That’s it for this week. Looking forward to discussing this article more in class.


— C


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