Back in November, Maria Rainier wrote a guest post for us on assessing outdated usage of the English language. She made some great points about contemporary language usage, but we later heard from Kleber Rebello, a Livemocha community member, who had some thoughts to share about that post. Here’s his letter.
Tell us what you think.
I have just read an article by Maria Rainier on outdated English grammar rules and started to reflect on the usage of those rules.
I notice that those rules do apply to “writing” in reputable newspapers and by reputable writers, who are “guardians” of the language.
That is not much true of “spoken” language, which ties to language “usage”. Unless you are a politician or a teacher or a university professor, which the majority of us is not, we often spend little time on lengthy sentences that would bore our friends or colleagues to death when we are talking to one another.
In fact, messages in dialogues are usually conveyed in the simplest of forms. “What are you going to do now ?” is typically heard as “Watcha gonna do now ?”, if you allow me to represent it in writing.
Take for instance the word “everybody”. It would not be uncommon to hear someone instruct people as follows: “Everyone (should) remember to take their belongings with them”. That’s natural for a spoken language. Of course that could have been expressed as “Please remeber to take your belongings with you”
Here’s the grammar rule, though: “everyone” is singular so, in writing at least, the first sentence would have been represented as “Everyone (should) remember to take his or belongings with him or her’, which would have sounded awkward if someone actually said that.
I suppose my point here is that, like in all languages, there is (and there should be) a distinction between what we write and what we speak.
One of the greatest issues of learning a foreign language is that very few teachers emphasize that difference so the student end up missing parts of conversations because he (or she) expects the native speaker to stick to grammar rules.
In French, for instance, the (old ?) grammar rule tells us that (unlike English) negative sentences have always 2 negative words. For instance, “I do NOT know her” translates into French as “Je NE le connais PAS”. Truth is, the average French speaker (I mean the guy from France) only uses “one” negative word: “Je le connais PAS”.
“Texting” is helping make this distinction between spoken and written language more obvious. In order to ask if a person is on the other side of the line, we simply type “u there ?”, meaning “Are you there ?”. By the way, many young people these days would not perceive that distinction and would inadvertently write in that way in their school assignments (this would be a totally different and lenghty discussion altogether).
So, I would not be able to claim certain grammar rules are outdated. Only that they do not apply 100% to spoken language, that is all.
Kleber Rebello Jr