Use of English on PBS (was: Re: PBS responses)

Jim McKenney
Thu, 26 Aug 2010 05:31:59 PDT
I’m happy to see so many well articulated and heartfelt expressions of
encouragement to those users of this list who are not proficient in English.
Of course it’s the message which is important, not the medium.  This group
is not a literary discussion group, we’re an email group.   And email itself
imposes its own peculiar limitations on the expression of written English.  


For me, this is a rich and endlessly fascinating topic, one much too
developed to discuss adequately here. But I see some interesting parallels
between language study and the study of plants. Just as there are those who
simply want to know what the rules of grammar are rather than know why the
rules are the way they are, so there are others who just want to know what
the right name for a plant is rather than know why that is the right name.
For those who just want to know what the rules of grammar are, there are
prescriptive grammars out there to answer their questions. For those who
just want to know what the right name is, there are resources which try to
provide that information. 


There is a dirty little secret about the grammar of English which most
English speakers seem not to be aware of: there is no one universally or
even generally accepted grammar for English. Although there is widespread
agreement about the essential basics, and there are style manuals to address
the various fripperies, anyone taking a serious interest in grammar
eventually reaches the point where they realize that the prescriptive
approach (telling people what is right or wrong) is not really up to the
job. At that point, many people discover the joys of descriptive grammar
(telling it like it is so-to-speak) and ever after regard prescriptive
grammar as sophomoric albeit necessary.  


How many of you know about The Elements of Style by Strunk and White? For
those of you who don’t know it, it is the book to which generations of
Americans looked for guidance in matters relating to successful writing. It
turns out that The Elements of Style is responsible for promoting a major
misunderstanding of the use of the passive voice in English. Check out this
link to an article titled 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice  by Geoffrey K.
Pullum : he shreds The Elements of Style. I found this on a site called
Grammar Girl while looking for advice about one of my pet peeves, the
so-called double genitive (look it up).…


If the “experts” can’t agree, where does that leave the rest of us? I hope
it leaves us a lot more tolerant of other people’s usage. 


Jim McKenney

Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone

My Virtual Maryland Garden



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