“To use the language of rights, our right to comment on how others use language is as important as our right to choose how we speak in the first place.”
In certain circles, grammar is a hot topic, or even a hot button issue. Any perceived misuse or abuse of language can be the cause for a chuckle* or outrage or anything in between. The assumption is that grammar follows a logical and defined form. However, in Grammar Matters: the Social Significance of How We Use Language, Jila Ghomeshi, a professor of linguistics at the University of Manitoba, shows that this isn’t always the case. While “prescriptivists” might maintain that there is a right and a wrong way, Ghomeshi shows that language is far more personalized than a grammar textbook allows. She examines the fallacy of logic and precision in the English language and points out the hypocrisy and prejudice in claiming there is only one correct use of grammar. Her argument isn’t entirely against this prescriptive view but the belief that one form or use of language is better than another. It is a compelling and interesting argument and one that is sure to incite a reaction from grammar-snobs and grammar-phobes in equal measure.
Over the next few months, CTSI FOCUS will open up the discussion on grammar matters (using Grammar Matters, of course) to learn what you have to say. Do we need to keep a tight rein on the use of language and uphold the standards of proper grammar (if such a thing exists) or should we be open to non-traditional uses? What are the social, political and cultural implications of doing so? And will your opinion change when you have read Grammar Matters? We hope that as we post more entries on this topic—and bring other voices into the discussion—that you will feel free to share your opinions and experiences on this topic. Please comment, please let us know what you think.
Grammar Matters has a Toronto launch on Thursday, July 28th—6pm to 8pm—at Type Books (883 Queen Street West).
*A recent article in The Globe and Mail about a University of Toronto Engineering team designing a more efficient toilet included the sentence, “The project sounds simple enough: design a new toilet for use in developing countries, where access to running water, electricity and sewage is limited.” We assume that they meant to say there is limited access to sewers not sewage.