Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Blog 8: Grammar

When I was growing up, my mom would frequently say to me, "If you can't speak English, that's fine--just let me know what language you can speak, and I'll learn it for your sake." This was her charming (albeit nondescript) way of correcting my grammar, for example, if I answered the phone, "This is him." To this day, she still corrects me whenever she sees any mistake I make--which includes Facebook. My mom's postgraduate work is in linguistics, for what it's worth.

Curiously, however, I don't really remember ever getting "grammar lessons," per se, either by my mother or at school. My mom's form of criticism was only to point out when I had said something improperly--she rarely actually "corrected" my grammar, if that makes sense.

As I get older, what I find more and more interesting is the variety of grammars and dialects with which I am equipped, each servicing different contexts and friendships. When I speak to my cat, for instance--besides sounding like a raging lunatic--the "grammatical rules" of my one-sided discussion lapse into almost nothing. When I speak to activist friends, however, I adopt a strange mix of relaxed inflection and leftist jargon.

When I first meet a student I'm going to tutor, I have this really forced (and therefore phony) friendly voice, and my inflection goes all unnatural. However, when I really get into the paper, and I'm focused, my voice drops into something really slow and quiet (or something), and it seems there's really nothing I can do about it--probably because I can't "intentionally" talk and actually think at the same time.

Discussions about grammar nowadays seem often to question the damage that our contemporary technologies will have on our language. While I think it seems silly to "worry" about such cultural changes, it also seems reductive to doubt that this is different than anxieties about past changes to language, as the scope --and just sheer exponentially greater change--of modern technology will most certainly entail transformative effects to pretty much all of social life, even to the extent that grammar will probably pale by comparison to other changes.

This is one of the most unfocused things I've ever written. Amen.


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