Grammar isn’t just an esoteric and irrational series of rules accompanied by exceptions to rules, it is logical, grounded and most importantly, objective, or is it? As a professor of English, Anne Curzan serves as a brick in the giant wall that represents the history, idiosyncrasies and contemporary role of the English language. She states that “we abandon our job as English teachers if we do not ask students to question how they are expected to write in school and other institutions. We must simultaneously teach the prescriptive grammatical rules and empower students to think critically about them” (871). Curzan is saying that students must be well-informed of what is expected of them pertaining to the current standards of both spoken and written English, however, all English instructors must also allow room for changes in order to keep their students open to the inevitable and mostly beneficial mutations that all extant languages experience. If we do not instill a sense of receptiveness in our students then where does that leave the progress of the English language?
The English language is not written in stone, it is living and is therefore constantly adapting to the needs of its users. Some examples of recent adaptations are the replacement of the word “aks” with “ask,” the exclusion of the contraction “ain’t” and the disapproval of double negatives. English teachers would say that there is nothing grammatically wrong with these usages but regardless, these adaptations are frowned upon and are slowly making their way towards the realm of disuse. But consider that “…”aks” predates “ask” in the history of English and used to be a literary form. “Shouldn’t” used to be as condemned as “ain’t.” Chaucer used double negatives (as well as “axe” for “ask”)” (873). What does this tell you about the history of the English language? It isn’t a stagnant lagoon but a river interspersed with strong rapids and the occurrence of different protocol relating to grammar, expressions, alternate spellings and pronunciations of words, etc is part of the natural life of a language and should be encouraged, not frowned upon.
We become our language. It is the primary way that we interact with the people around us. How we choose to use it determines how others view us. Curzan argues “Language…is how we do things. Language creates and maintains our communities. Through language, we assert our identities. And we judge others on language” (873). That being said, how would others view our communities and identities if we chose to apply our language in a certain way, either by fastidiously adhering to every rule and sub-rule we come across as quickly as they surge forth from the mouths and pens of figures whom we perceive to possess authority or frivolously and rapidly adapting new exceptions and abbreviations as fast as the whims and vicissitudes of our arbitrary natures reveal them to us. More importantly, how would we view other societies if they adapted either of these polarized attitudes towards language? We must scrutinize the maturation of our spoken and written word because when we speak or write, we are not just expressing ourselves but we are telling the world who we are.