Is Grammar a Goner?

Is Grammar a Goner?

modern english lesson cartoon

When the cartoon to the left appeared on my Facebook page recently, I promptly shared it, as I suspected it would appeal to several friends who, like me, are fascinated by matters grammatical and orthographical.

Responses to the cartoon ranged from a teenager’s desperate “Oh gosh, please no” to an adult’s philosophical “If language isn’t a living thing, then what is it?” to another adult’s firm “Yes, it’s organic, but it doesn’t have to be a free-for-all either, or the rate of change will get out of hand. We sticks-in-the-mud serve a useful purpose in trying to slow the process down just a little.”

Evidently the importance – or lack of importance – of grammar has the capacity to polarise people, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the issue rears its head in the press reasonably often. Indeed, scarcely a week goes by without an article in some paper or online forum bemoaning the state of the English written language, denigrating the decline in standards of spoken language, and forecasting a time when we will be reduced to the grunting and babbling favoured by our Neanderthal forebears.

One of the most recent grammar-related furores was provoked by Oxford Professor Simon Horobin, who questioned if apostrophes were really necessary any more. In response to his query, The Telegraph newspaper online invited readers to vote for other grammatical rules they’d like to see banned.

So is grammar worth holding on to? Or is it doomed to oblivion in the not-too-distant future? Personally, I hope not – and not just because I’m an editor and proofreader (who could well become extinct if grammar, including apostrophe usage, were to fall by the wayside!). Being a linguist as well as a writer, I genuinely fear that the act of removing basic grammar rules from our language one by one could have the same effect as systematically removing the foundation stones from a building – at some point in the future that building is likely to come clattering down. And at current rate of progress, by then there might be no one with any knowledge of grammar left to rebuild it…

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