People wonder why English departments are such sticklers for grammar and the like. I’ll tell you honestly that, as a teacher, it’s not easy to uphold SWE (Standard Written English) when people (real people, my good friends, my respected colleagues) don’t really speak it themselves. Most people in an urban environment speak some version of what I think of as a “dialect” of Standard English. Call it Ebonics or call it Slang, or whatever you want to, given the situation. No matter what you call it, the term will sound like you’re talking down to the speaker, and that’s not kind, not good. It doesn’t let that person be heard.
Now that we’ve said that, I still have to grade papers. Lots of them. And I have to convey to my students why it’s important that they write in SWE to the best of their ability. One of the better arguments I’ve found is that of “consistency.” If you conform to a standard your concepts and innovations can be adopted faster.
Here is what one famous writer had to say about why people aren’t speaking English well anymore. And he wrote this at least 75 years ago!:
A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.
–from “POLITICS AND THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE” BY GEORGE ORWELL
Thoughts? Accuracy is important. And it can be fun to be accurate, and to enforce accuracy in others…
(George Orwell, pictured above. He wrote Animal Farm, and 1984.)
A reminder: My Office Hour is Thursdays, 10:45AM – 11:45 AM in the Common Room near the Library, Atrium, 4th Flr.
Feb. 5, 2016.