To my horror, ABC’s language researcher Tiger Webb posted an article today on the ABC online news site entitled: “The ‘rules’ of grammar are made up, so why bother following them?”
Well, Tiger, it seems you need a wake-up call.
Rules have been ‘made up’ to govern most of our activities in life. That fact alone is not an argument for not following the rules. Just because someone invented road rules doesn’t mean we can choose whether or not to follow them, and just because someone invented rules about food hygiene doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to eat raw chicken! Of course, failing to construct a proper sentence is not going to cause a major traffic incident or salmonella poisoning but the underlying principle is the same. Not following rules because they are ‘made up’ is a specious, half-baked, stupid argument that one would not expect from an ABC researcher.
Secondly, just because rules are complex and difficult does not mean they should be ignored. There is a compelling argument for maintaining language standards and that argument is based on quality, precision and longstanding good practice. Ancient Greek and Roman writers spent a great deal of time considering the subject of grammar and expression, different styles of speech, how to achieve clarity or grandeur in speech and how to persuade. They explicitly advocated the reading of poetry and oratory to refine one’s language and expression to a high standard. There is a reason why the nine Greek Muses were goddesses of artful speech and storytelling along with different styles of poetry! These language standards were transmitted through education in the classical tradition into the English language tradition.
Tiger does not believe that English language is in crisis. As a matter of fact, I agree. There is no crisis: just a gradual, pathetic, downward slide in the direction of apathy and “duzza matta” attitude. For my part, I think it is vitally important to speak properly, to write concisely and clearly in proper sentences and to observe the proper rules of grammar. In an increasingly competitive job environment, why wouldn’t you want your writing and speech to stand out as structured, considered and grammatically correct?
Tiger recommends that we should avoid “blind adherence to rules” (particularly grammatical ones) because there are plentiful instances of those rules being broken, even by their very proponents. Well, isn’t that a good reason to abandon the rules altogether! Why bother teaching our children to speak properly at all?
When my three-year old daughter says “Mummy, d’ you r’member when we drived to the coast?” should I sing her praises for dropping vowels and mutilating the past tense of the verb ‘drive’? A gold sticker for originality, my dear! And when my son comes home from school and suggests “Well, like, we could do some paper craft”, Tiger’s approach suggests that I should just accept with open arms the use of ‘like’ as an exclamation instead of a noun, adjective or verb. Hooray, my son, for embracing yet another “rogue American” expression. You can add “awesome”, “cool”, “often times” and “yeah” to that list.
Sorry Tiger. Language standards are important and grammar is even more important. I am going to continue to teach my children to speak properly and construct proper sentences. I will continue to reject rubbish English. Indeed, if Tiger Webb is anything to go by, it is up to us as parents and teachers because we can no longer rely on the ABC to keep up the language standard.
Tiger, this fable is just for you:
“Once, there was a tiger who had a large treasure. He reasoned that because the treasure was so large, no one would steal it from him so he fell fast asleep under a tree. As he slept, each of the animals took a small piece of the treasure until there was nothing left. When the tiger woke up, he looked in alarm and said “Woe is me, I fell asleep and lost everything I once had”.
Link to ABC article:
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