As we prepare for tonight’s Grammar Matters launch (Type Books, 883 Queen Street West, 6pm-8pm), our thoughts turn to–well, grammar matters. As Jila Ghomeshi demonstrates in her book, many people take the subjects of grammar and language very seriously. Ghomeshi’s analysis of language far exceeds the effects of a misplaced comma. She looks at the social and political implications of policing grammar and how the use and perceived abuse or misuse of language can be a contentious topic. A great many people have an opinion about grammar and just how it should be used. So, after reading Ghomeshi’s book, I’ve been thinking about the ways that we learn the rules of grammar and if that affects how we perceive it.
Most likely, your first encounter with grammar lessons was in elementary school or via educational television programs. (I admit that whenever I consider conjunctions or adverbs, I have to sing the song, too.) The general rule was that until you discovered The Elements of Style all grammar books would be dry and boring. Boring (for some but certainly not all) and something that you had to do. Now, however, there seems to no end to the cyber-grammar options (perhaps because almost anyone can easily create a blog or website) and they come in all shapes and sizes. Grammar lessons are not just for the classroom anymore.
I find this interesting as the internet and new media often receive a great deal of criticism and blame for the perceived demise of grammar. Yet, if we can easily locate websites and blogs devoted to language – tips for proper use, the history of the English language – why is there so much variance in use? How do we learn the new elements of style if the rules are changing? While radio programs (and blogs) like Spark regularly investigate this question, there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer. Do we experience written language differently if we experience it mainly online? And I’m not even considering the word of texting short-forms as I understand so few of them. (IMHO, LOL!) If we are concerned about the transitions of language – whether or not it should change with cultures, class and generations – are we really just proving that we are concerned that we’ll be left behind? If anyone has any insight or thoughts on this questions, we’d love to hear from you.