Use Your Words: Legendary Grammar

I think of myself as a humble person. That’s why I have my own blog. (Actually, it’s two blogs and an online portfolio.) But modest as I am, I must confess that in the past I was somewhat of a legend. A grammar legend. My friends and family would never admit it because, well, they were probably jealous, but it’s true.

I knew the rules, the exceptions, and when to pause for effect. Like here. Not only did I know how to diagram a sentence; I could do it in less than a minute. I was even part of human sentences that were then verbally diagrammed  by our eighth grade class. I was always the comma. (Thanks Mrs. Gilbert; that was a good week.)

These days I’m feeling less confident and certainly less cocky (about grammar). I remember the terms, and I remember the rules…but I cannot remember which terms go with which rules and don’t even get me started on those exceptions! And pauses? I fear that I pause too much: it’s disruptive. I need a refresher course in grammar.

To become the legend I once was, I’m turning to a college favorite, Martha Kolln’s Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices and Rhetorical Effects (5th Edition)Besides, it’s a convenient week to brush up since I just moved to a city where I know two people.

Upon rereading the introduction, however, I am forced to pause (again: pausing) and consider a few larger questions I have about grammar. Kolln explains that before we even know how to speak, we internalize grammar and the patterns of speech from the speakers around us. Thus, grammar is learned far before it is ever taught.

This makes sense to me, but still I scribble in the margin, “Is this still true? Has the digital age changed this at all?” And here, I’m posing those same questions to you, my three loyal subscribers: my best friend, my boyfriend, and my dad.

In a world full of emoticons, abbreviations, and acronyms, do children still have internalized rule sets? And if they do, are they what we accept as grammar? Is it possible that the above trends affect only text communication, not speech? Or, have the shortcuts of today actually affected the people of tomorrow? And does any of this really matter?

I understand that language constantly changes to fit the needs of the society that uses it; I only wonder if we’re beginning to see macro changes in language today rather than the micro changes I suspect altered language in the past.

If communication is changing to a hybrid of shortcuts, are we losing anything? Obviously society is still functioning…sort of. Maybe these questions are just originating from my limited observation of people very like me in age, interests, and region. Or perhaps I just fear change in general and hate that everyone seems to love acronyms and I do not.

As my renewed relationship with grammar blossoms into a better understanding, I personally intend to be more purposeful with words and structure. I also aim to be a better observer of the speech and writing of others. Possibly I’ll discover that I’m just a worrier. Maybe I’ll realize I’m hanging out with the wrong speakers or spending too much time on the Internet. But surely I’ll write another blog about my findings.

Thanks for reading, and please, use your words.

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Michelle Junot is a writer, designer and copy editor in Baltimore, Maryland. She is the author of Notes From My Phone* as well as and the floor was always lava.

2 thoughts on “Use Your Words: Legendary Grammar

  1. The way children learn grammar is through speech–they’ve fully internalized the kind of structure you’re discussing here well before they learn to read. Well before they even really learn to speak. With both of our boys, we’ve noticed that: before they have words, they will begin to vocalize pitch changes that reflect the sounds of a sentence. Then their style mimics ours as they begin to have words to fill in those musical patterns.

    Of course, this assumes that we talk to and with our children. But I’ll confess it’s a challenge sometimes with all the personal technology to pull me away from them even when we’re in the same room. It’s easy to take one’s iPhone to the coloring table and check my Twitter feed rather than color alongside. So parenting with all its responsibilities, like the cultivation of language, is a discipline.

    As a postscript: to be sure, highly acronymed writing does affect their later un-poetic-ness, and I think we would do well to war a bit against the way such stuff can control us into ROFL ridiculousness. If we want to use language to really communicate with one another, we must at least have _more_ tools in our toolbelt than “tell the world the whole of what I think in just a few letters” acronyms. We must talk–you know, conversation. In real grammar. (That fragment counts because it was chosen for rhetorical emphasis.)

  2. I just told Sarah, “I am loving Michelle’s blog!” I too have been known for my grammar skills, though I assume they have dwindled in the past year or so. Please don’t critique this comment too harshly! I have slacked significantly in blogging, but I caught the bug again yesterday. Thanks for your comments on my blog, also. Glad to be following you!

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