Sunday, August 23, 2020

CURMUDGUCATION: Grammar Police, Go Home

CURMUDGUCATION: Grammar Police, Go Home

Grammar Police, Go Home

Grammar and usage are two different things, and understanding the difference can be a huge help in untying some linguistic knots and navigating some linguistic swamps of the English kind. Because the "grammar police" are almost never policing grammar; they're enforcing something else entirely. And yes-- if you stick around for this, you'll get some of the same stuff my students did for years.


Grammar is the mechanics of language. Or at least, the best model we can come up with. Because here's the thing-- we don't really know how the brain does language. We know that there's a readiness factor (that would be why you learn your first language when you can't even dress yourself, but trying to learn a second language in your teens is twelve kinds of torture). Language is a big black box in the brain, and we don't know what's going on inside it.

But we can reverse engineer it. If you played Pacman, you learned a bunch of rules to the game--which way to turn, when to turn, where to pause, etc. You did not learn those by printing out and studying the program for the game. You learn by carefully observing what works and what doesn't. There are plenty of other examples-- we don't actually know how/why gravity works, but we can accurately describe how it will behave.

So to for grammar. Grammar rules are descriptive, like Newton's Laws of Motion. When we say that CONTINUE READING: 
CURMUDGUCATION: Grammar Police, Go Home