word for word, language is a tool for concealing the truth. -carlin

I, like many other interns, am an English major. I was the kid who diagrammed sentences for fun and corrected my family’s usage of “good” to mean “well”, who gets irritated when I find myself making silly mistakes while speaking or writing. Anne Curzan, an English teacher and grammarian, believes that we should keep the mistakes, if they are to be considered mistakes at all, as a form of dialect. She propagates the idea to question everything – even the rules for something as beloved as our language. I am appreciative of any teacher who knows that his or her subject is not infallible, and goes out of the way to impress that upon the students. English is not a simple language by any means – there are dozens of exceptions to exceptions and strange word usages that make it a nightmare for a non native speaker to learn. Enforcing all of the guidelines, whether in written work or in speech, is simply impossible. Not only that, but having the sheer audacity to believe such a task must be done indicates some kind of authority complex. I don’t cringe as much as I used to when I hear “good” instead of “well”, and I’ve given up on telling people that conditional sentences use “were” instead of “was”. I understand that people will speak how they want to speak, in a form of English that isn’t perfect and is unique to their neighborhoods or households or even families. There are rules I love to break. I split infinitives, I use fragments for greater emphasis, and I routinely misuse words for humorous purposes. I think Curzan is trying to tell us, contradictorily anyway, that errors can be made out to be pleasing when done correctly. I do, however, have a gripe with the piece as a whole. Whenever an author is arguing a point, and the opportunity to visually portray the argument presents itself, I cannot see why the chance isn’t taken. That is, Curzan abides by all of the written rules she teaches. Her writing is technically flawless, impeccable, and the only times she breaks out of that perfected style is when she is quoting someone else. I feel that the piece would be a dozen times stronger if she avoided writing the piece as if it were to be submitted to the gods of academia. She articulates her point very well, and I do not believe that the writing would suffer if it were a bit more tonally juvenile, or filled with words a freshman in high school would use. As for her proposal – that professors and whatnot should learn the origins of the rules they teach, and encourage the questioning of those rules – of course. That should be standard of any branch of learning, no matter whether it’s mandated by school or learned in one’s spare time for enjoyment. Merely believing an authority just because it’s an authority is foolish and gullible, and unfortunately, students seldom learn how to question anything and everything effectively. I agree with Curzan that we should look with a skewed eye at all things learned, starting with the most fundamental thing: language.

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One Response to word for word, language is a tool for concealing the truth. -carlin

  1. Really great response! I LOVE your critique of Curzan’s style! Awesome job!


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