|Samuel Johnson, an early champion of 'good' grammar||(Wikicommons)|
I’m a stickler for good grammar. Yes, really. A whole sentence can be ruined by a misplaced comma; a text by the absence of an apostrophe.
And this had got me to wondering WHY I am so annoyed by these things. Because they don’t actually stop me understanding the sentence or text. And language is about expressing meaning. So if the grammatical ‘error’ doesn’t affect the meaning then does it matter?
Any linguist will tell you that language is evolving all the time, and what is considering completely wrong now (either in vocabulary or grammar) may be commonplace at some time in the future. So should we worry?You have to admit some of our grammar ‘rules’ are ridiculous. We’re told: never split an infinitive. Why not? Because the Romans didn’t. Ah, but that’s because the Romans couldn’t. It’s physically impossible to split a Latin infinitive (e.g. ire), but perfectly easy to split an English one (to go). Try it. You can be proud to boldy go where no self-respecting writer has gone before.
There are,of course, occasions where grammar and spelling are useful for transmitting meaning. For example: I like eating cake Jane and Sally arrived too late for high tea is somewhat confusing on first reading. I like eating cake, Jane and Sally? No, of course not. There’s a missing full stop after cake. This would be indicated in speech by a pause, so the full stop has a definite function in writing.
Which brings me on to another difference between the spoken and written word (and let's ignore the fact that you should never start a sentence with a preposition). I went there yesterday with Richard. There house was lovely. Spot the error (my computer already has!). But if you speak these sentences aloud you pronounce there (or their) exactly the same, and your listener would have no problem understanding the meaning from the context. This is a case were the difference in spelling appears to add nothing. It is inaudible in speech and we don’t miss it, yet we still insist on it in writing. Why?
I’m not saying grammar and spelling aren’t useful, but I’m beginning to wonder if they’re as important as the Grammar Police make them out to be. Is it time to start accepting that not all the rules are necessary, and that we should be making writing a little easier? Might these rules serve no purpose other than allowing well-educated, middle-class people (like me) to differentiate themselves from the hoi polio? Because, after all, we no so much more than them dont we?