Friday, October 05, 2012

Arbitraria Deos: The Grammar Gods

Grammar Gods?

In an argument at the Marmot's Hole over Korean grammar -- about which I know nearly nothing -- Gerry Bevers, who has been working on the language for many years and argues over the finer points of grammar, wrote the following in defense of deferring to grammar authorities:
Americans frequently make ungrammatical sentences, but is that something that should just be accepted? Should American English teachers stop marking those as mistakes simply because many Americans make them? Why even bother teaching grammar if people are simply going to excuse grammar mistakes as colloquial speech?
By way of humorous retort, I interrupted the debate and posted this:
Good point! Follow the lead of grammarians. But . . .

I know I ain't supposed to use "ain't" for "am not" -- I'm supposed to use "aren't," aren't I? or am I not? . . . I'm not sure.
My subtle point is not to throw grammar out the window but rather to direct attention to an absurdity foisted upon English speakers by grammarians so uptight and rigid about excluding a historical contraction for "am not" that they insist on "aren't" as its proper contraction when using a tag question!

I'm right about this, ain't I?

Or would you prefer: I'm wrong about this, aren't I?

Think about it . . .

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At 3:00 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

I advocate a moderate prescriptivism.

At 3:14 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I support your radical advocacy! As for Gerry, his problem is his stubborn prescriptivism.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am certainly no grammarian, however; I dislike contractions as well and will go so far as to rewrite a sentence to if needed to avoid using one. One thing my wife and I often discuss is the grammer, good or bad, of those we hear speak. Does not mean we are great grammarians, but we know a bad one when we see or hear it, and that is directly due to the lessons we were taught throughout our schooling.

I agree with Jeff in that it is nothing to get overly upset about, but how would we even recognize it if we were never taught it?


At 6:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Contractions are generally avoided in formal writing, though not so much as previously.

In fiction, contractions are essential for dialogue, less so for descriptive passages.

I wish "ain't" would be reconsidered for "am not," if for no other reason, then to do away with the ridiculous tag question "aren't I?"

From studying the history of English and writing articles on texts in Old, Middle, and Early Modern English, I've loosened up a bit on grammar prescription -- a tendency further loosened by knowledge of British English.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:37 AM, Blogger Gerry Bevers said...


You are trying to equate the colloquial contraction "ain't" with much more serious Korean grammar errors, such as, using adjectives as verbs.

I also think "ain't" should be excepted as a legitimate contraction, but I don't think we should be saying things like, "I lonely you," which was one of the Korean grammar problems I pointed out in my comments.

Do you really think my refusing to accept "I lonely you" as acceptable grammar is "subborn prescriptivism"?

At 1:38 AM, Blogger Gerry Bevers said...

Correction: accepted

At 3:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

No, on that point, I would agree with you, Gerry -- about English! English verbs don't end in "-ly" (so far as I can recall), which is an adverbial ending, usually, but also a lovely adjective ending, occasionally.

I guess you're not a stubborn prescriptivist in English. From the argument you were having with others over Korean grammar, you were facing off against some knowledgeable individuals -- but since I'm ignorant of Korean grammar, I should bow out.

Sorry about the label "stubborn prescriptivist" . . . but aren't you just a little bit . . . persistent?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:43 AM, Blogger Gerry Bevers said...


I like to read Korean books with such titles as "Write Our Language Correctly." Such books point out many of the common errors Koreans make when they write Korean. Many of the errors I point out are taken right from such books. Many Koreans do not even realize they are making the mistakes, just as many Americans do not realize the mistakes they are making in English.

Anyway, besides talking about the more glaring mistakes, the books also talk about more subtle things to help Koreans improve their writing. For example, many Koreans might write something like, "The fastest I can do it is Thursday," but one of the books suggests it is more appropriate and reads better to write, "The earliest I can do it is Thursday."

That may seem like a small complaint, but the goal of the books is to help Koreans refine their writing skills. I try to keep such things in mind when I write Korean, but I don't generally complain about such small things at the Marmot's Hole. There I tend to focus more on the more glaring mistakes.

At 7:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Those sound like good books.

Jeffery Hodges

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