Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Grammar and Cultural Chauvinism

Supposably, for all intensive purposes, irregardless of the fact that I could care less, I'd buy an expresso, excetera, pacifically for anyone who realized that it is of upmost importance that we use proper spelling and grammar. Otherwise, we'll look dull and uneducated, and no one will read our resume'.

Does anybody else think our preoccupation with spelling and grammar is a trifle arbitrary? I have always been a stickler for good spelling and grammar, but seriously, it is arbitrary, right? It has to be. English grew out of a need to communicate, long before we had any concept of English grammar. The English language is an ad-hoc hodgepodge of other languages and dialects. 

Shakespeare liked to toy with the language, and he frequently invented new words. He had the liberty of defining the part of speech and the spelling. Why did that spelling have to be locked in place for ever after? Spelling wasn't actually "standardized" until the first dictionaries began to capture the current (local) spellings, or assigned spellings based on the current (local) pronunciation. That was arbitrary. 

I think the current preoccupation with spelling and grammar actually stems from a need for educated people to be able to draw a line between themselves and other, uneducated people. I honestly do believe that. The same goes for the disdain for "Ebonics", various southern dialects, the use of "ain't", and so on. 

When we say, "nice day, eh", we're either mocking or identifying with Canadians, eh? When we say, "We be racis'", we're either mocking or identifying with the black culture. When we say, "Oh my God! Gag me with a spoon!", we're mocking the Valley Girl culture. And it works both ways: When a Negro uses "good" grammar, s/he is said to be "acting white". 

I think we humans engage in cultural chauvinism without realizing it, even at the very same time we denounce it. We want to be accepted by our culture and by our peers, and language is just as much a badge or uniform as skin color or clothing. "Good" spelling and grammar are just other ways to impose uniformity. It doesn't bother me, but I think this observation will irritate 'progressives' who pride themselves on their expensive liberal arts education and impeccable spelling and grammar. 


  1. My wife tells our cat that 'pappa is talking smack about you'.
    You bet I do! I talk smack about anyone I feel the need to.
    It's a right guaranteed by the US Consitution last time I checked. Amen.

  2. These days it is difficult to tell the congenitally challenged spellers from the dyslexically challenged fingers on the computer keyboard. I do prefer orderliness in spelling and syntax- . Mistakes tend to detract from the essence of the article and its message.

    1. When I correspond with people I know, I sometimes like to deliberately misspell words for comic effect. And sometimes fat fingers on a small keyboard create amusing results, and spell checkers enhance that effect. I do believe a certain amount of consistency does enhance communication. Total anarchy probably would not work. However, I think we have all seen those emails that illustrate the brain's ability to recognize completely whacked spellings, as long as most of the letters are present, and particularly if the first and last letter are in the right places.


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