I consider myself a pretty standard grammar Nazi. I double-check emails to make sure everything is spelled correctly. I’m insistent upon the correct use of “your” vs “you’re” and “there” vs “their” vs “they’re.” And I’ll admit that I take secret pleasure in correcting someone’s word use in a sentence.

But I’m human, and I make mistakes. I abbreviate heavily on G-chat, and I’m not above substituting a “U” for “you” when I’m rushing through a text message. But does this make me less literate? And what about the hundreds upon thousands of electronic device users running rampant through the country? We tweet, Facebook and IM, inhale information and spit it back out at an alarming rate. Do the language decisions we make on the internet say something about our literacy, our culture, or both?

Enter in this just-posted Rumpus interview with Constance Hale, journalist and language goddess, and a much more severe grammar Nazi than I’ll ever be. If you relish in words – their form, their sound, their vast array of meanings – then you’ll love this article. I’ve included an excerpt below, or you can read the full interview.

“What makes us different from everything else on the planet? We have language. We have the capacity to communicate and to touch each other intellectually or emotionally. It’s completely central to who we are, to our core being. And it matters a lot that we be able to communicate effectively. And yet, despite this, it isn’t taught very effectively in schools, and it isn’t taught very effectively, necessarily, within families. Your parents may make you feel kind of uptight about language if they correct you a certain way, or don’t correct you, or you might be ashamed of your parents. There’s a lot of stuff that isn’t taught very well.

That’s why I think it stirs up passions in two very different and kind of paradoxical ways. On the one hand, people love great language. We all love a great Bob Dylan song, and we all respond to a politician that’s able to speak really eloquently. We respond to good advertising. And all of us have our favorite writers, and part of the reason we love them is the way they use language. So there’s that positive passion.

And then there’s this negative passion, or anxiety, which is we don’t feel that we do it right and we haven’t been taught it in a particularly good way. As a culture, Americans don’t talk about language very much. We don’t talk about language at the dinner table. In some other cultures, they do. In some other cultures, they talk about language and grammar a lot more easily. It’s an interesting paradox to me, but it’s why I think people get so riled up about it.” – Constance Hale

 

-Genevieve

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