Saturday, May 1, 2010

Because the Grammar Geek Said So!

Who the hell do I think I am?

I am an American whose first language is English. I speak the language of Thomas Jefferson who wrote that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." I speak the language of Mark Twain, who so sagely advised "The holy passion of Friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money."

I am a veteran of 20 years in the ESL classroom. I have spent countless hours explaining the difference between "most people" and "most of the people". I explain to students why using an adjective clause weakens their intent and why a main clause would express their ideas more concisely. I have uncountable nouns for lunch and wash them down with adverb complements and appositives. I go to sleep mulling over the difference between "my book" and "my own book."

I am the geek who thinks language is sudoku on steroids. It is better than the most intricate video game. It is the one art that I actually excel at. (At least in my own mind.) A piece of paper is a blank canvas waiting for me to write a love letter to my wife or express my outrage at the latest political idiocy. I can tell Grandma about the latest, greatest thing that every child in history has done, yet never quite so spectacularly as her grandson just did. I can make a grammar lesson that might explain a tricky point just a little bit differently enough to make a student say "Aha!"

I stop in the middle of a paragraph to admire an especially well-crafted sentence.

I shake my head in disbelief when I see a spelling error on a menu.

I yell at the screen when the CNN crawl details Tiger Woods' latest exploits. (Please tell me you immediately realized the s was missing after the apostrophe.)

I am the self-annointed king of the Grammar Geeks who has inherited a magical language, the most difficult and complex on the planet. I am its steward. It is my job to draw the line in the sand and declare "Thou shalt not do anything on accident." It is my job to defend that line to my dying breath and pass it on to the next generation of stewards, hoping beyond hope that they will care for it as passionately as I have tried to.

Show me where it says in the Constitution that, along with the freedoms of speech, assembly and blowing off my sister's wedding so I can draft my Fantasy Football team live, I have the freedom to butcher the English language and bend it into any unnatural shape I want simply because OMG, I don't get it and Jersey Shore is on in five minutes.

Grammar is like the ocean. There is no need to fear it, and we should all enjoy it. However, we must respect it, because if we don't, a shark might come up and take a piece out of your hind parts.

I am the Great White in an ocean of grammar just waiting to take a bite. That's who the hell I think I am.


  1. Grammar is like the ocean; and I have seen it get choppy far too often. ;-)
    Looking forward to other of your entries--and the occasional spirited discussion.

  2. Terrific start, Luther. You write beautifully. I'm glad Thanks for crediting me with your inspiration to begin.

  3. That's what this is all about -- spirited discussion. I think Krashen's greatest contribution to linguistics is that he inspired a lot of discussion and research, even though most of it ultimately proved he was off the mark.

  4. Ummm...I don't think Krashen's stuff is as off the mark as you suggest. I haven't found any research that suggests that his work is off the mark. Indeed, my own research supported his findings regarding the Affective Filter Hypotheses and the Monitor Hypothesis.

  5. I remember a lot of research was done specifically to debunk his theories. I agree with much of what he said, especially the Affective Filter. But at least when I was in grad school, Krashen was a borderline dirty word.

  6. I think there are those who say his work was all hooey. (There is a site called krashenburn.) But as I read through his work, he re-states (or rather synthesizes quite well) what others before him (Curran--indeed the whole Humanist Psychology movement, Gattegno, Stevick, Scovel to name but a few) had already said in one way or another. Krashen took all of this, and synthesized it into his Five Hypotheses. To say there was no research on it is to ignore all the stuff done in the late 60s and 70s by a lot of other researchers. I know researchers go in and out of vogue. It could be that when you were in school, he was out of vogue. In looking at my own (more recent) work, I see his work as still very relevant and correct.