“Says Who? Teaching and Questioning the Rules of Grammar”

“Says Who? Teaching and Questioning the Rules of Grammar,” written by Anne Curzan goes on to portray the difficulties of Standard English by juxtaposing it with the question ‘who are they?'” I’ve always thought the same way as the English teachers that Curzan mentions: just taking the ‘they’ as the authority, and writing things as they are supposed to be written. I never really questioned who the ‘they’ were; who these people are that have the authority to set the rules for English grammar. I know I have written ‘they’ in a singular sense many times -none of my English professors or teachers have ever told me it was wrong.
Aside from the singular generic use of ‘they’, I know I’ve judged those that have pronounced words incorrectly. Chaucer is one of my favorite authors and I have never criticized his writing style. “Chaucer used double negatives (as well as axe for ask)” (Curzan 873). I have judged others in my mind about they they spoke. I never did it intentionally but I have caught myself a few times, stopping myself from judging them; it’s difficult when society has pushed it on you as a norm. This all leads back to the that ‘they’. The only thing we know for sure is that the ‘they’ in this sense is not singular -it is definitely plural. Teachers wouldn’t be able to grade students without these rules. We may be able to teach our students that there are some rules that can be stretched or broken, that they shouldn’t have to “give up what they bring to school in order to acquire a new set of grammatical rules” (Curzan 873). But how do we change the minds of the professional world to agree with this? When students erase their home language, just to understand and learn Standard English, they lose a part of themselves, they lose a bit of their culture -not exactly fair.
There were a few rules that I wasn’t aware of myself. I have neither been taught some of these rules nor have they ever been pointed out to me if I have used certain words were used incorrectly. A lot of the things that I’ve been told to correct have had to do with the teacher’s own pet peeves. They tend to be more strict on the things that bother them the most. I guess the consequence in that is losing a bit of the other rules that apart of this Standard English. The Standard English that ‘they’ have pushed on us also says: “ultimately, readers will want to make up their own minds about each of such usage issues, but the opinions of the Panel may provide a useful point of reference” (Curzan 875). If this is the case, then why are the teachers, mentioned at the beginning of this article, complaining? I personally agree with many of the points that Curzan makes throughout the article. English teachers should exploit and cover these points so they aren’t forcing their students to stick to just the rules (as long as they are aware of how certain words should or should not be used).

-Henna Tailor

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One Response to “Says Who? Teaching and Questioning the Rules of Grammar”

  1. Chaucer is popular with this reading lol. Nice work.


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