Friday, October 14, 2011

Commas among the cannibals.

The first question is a little easier to answer.  I was taught that you never put a comma before and, that “, and” is redundant. I held onto this idea until we started teaching workshops.  I was taught that effect is always a now and affect is always a verb.  I first started to suspect otherwise when Jack Sparrow asked for his “affects” meaning his gun and stuff.  I was taught that the subject of a sentence is the first noun in the sentence, and that the topic of a sentence and the subject were the same thing.  I was taught that it was always “and I”, never “and me.”   I was taught that Dad and Mom, as well as Mother and Father, were always proper nouns and should always be capitalized.

The second question is harder.  We have been wrestling with the question of teaching grammar for the last few weeks.  If teaching correct grammar has no effect on writing, would teaching bad grammar have an effect?  There are some times when grammar is important because it affects meaning.  The example “Let’s eat Grandpa” vs “Let’s eat, Grandpa.”  Is an often used example, showing that commas are important.  However this example actually serves the opposite purpose.  What the Grandpa sentence actually shows is how unimportant commas are because NO ONE IS GOING TO THINK THAT YOU ARE SUGGESTING CANABALISM.  The comma, or lack of comma, does not confuse meaning. A better example is “the short bearded man” vs “the short, bearded man.”  The question “is the man short or is his beard short?” is answered by the comma placement. Some teachers teach that you should separate adjectives in a list with commas, but this example show how important it is to teach the actual rule. 
            Lets look at the examples above.  If I don’t put a comma before the and it rarely makes a difference in the meaning of a sentence but it could affect the rhythm.  It is important to know that the first noun in the sentence is not the subject when it comes to conjugating verbs.  In schools across the country, the president is speaking. If schools were the subject then the verb is should be are.  I don’t think mixing up me and I will ever cause confusion, but it is a pet peeve amoung grammarians. 
            So the question is, “is grammar important.” I would say academically, yes. Language is interesting and grammar is a key part of language.  Also, you can make cool work plays and puns if you are good at grammar.  Practically, less so.  If the goal is communication then it is important to remember that grammar serves communication.  People who put too much emphasis on “correct grammar,” often ignore the ideas being communicated.


Post a Comment

<< Home