The Grammar Conspiracy

Ms. Curzan makes quite the revolutionary argument; her attempt to educate students on language discrepancies while trying to fix their grammatical errors is a truly daunting task. I do have some questions, however. Ms. Curzan claims that she doesn’t want her students to follow prescriptive usage rules blindly. She would rather have them understand the rules of grammar, acknowledge the differences and knowingly make the choice to adhere to the rules or not. This, I feel is a dangerous step. I understand the desire to encourage questions and strengthen curiosity among students, but for a student whose primary interests do not lie in the study of English language or literature (such as many students in Expos. Classes) this particular theory may result in crippling the student academically. Unfortunately, grades run on deadlines and following directions and answering prompts. Should we attempt to further confuse a student who, not only will have the content to analyze, but also the grammar? Certainly, they have a right to know “…where the prescriptive rules of written Standard English come from.” But, do they care? Will it get them the “A” that they are seeking? Personally, I would rather have the student focus on presenting a coherent argument that flows and is persuasive rather than contemplating the origin of the semi-colon. Shouldn’t there be an emphasis on making the content relevant to the student rather than the grammar?

Ms. Curzan asks “What happens if we open this door and let students question the status of Standard English and logic of prescriptive rules?” I would say, probably the same thing that would happen if we allowed students taking math courses to question the subtraction and addition signs–equations would never be solved. If a student cared to learn about the philosophy of grammar, they would take a course that delved into these particular points, but why confuse the general population of students? Perhaps it is unfair to “encourage our students to critically question everything except the very conventions in which they are asked to write…” but the tutor, intern, or instructor must not neglect the primary need of the student which is to understand the grammar rules that are socially and professionally acceptable at this time. In doing so, the students will learn to write accordingly.

She seems to justify her argument by trying to list all these examples of the ways in which grammar has changed over the years. However, the student in question needs to understand the rules that are necessary in this present time. Regardless of whether “most speakers of American English use singular they, including many speakers who preach against the construction,” a student really wants to know whether her professor will take off points because of it–or any other academic institutions in the future.  Also, it does not matter to the student that Standard English “has been elevated to the standard for social and political reasons,” newsflash, most things are.  Why must everything be a conspiracy? And, if it truly is, do we really care? Especially to those students who find the subject of grammar completely irrelevant beyond their “A.” Ms. Curzan makes an excellent point when she lists all the references, articles and information sources written in Standard English. Everything from “bureaucratic publications, newspapers, formal documents…” and educational resources. If this is so , then the rules surrounding Standard English should be emphasized and studied, not the philosophy behind its origin.

As for the word “Aks” perhaps it did come before “Ask” but that doesn’t mean it is socially and professionally acceptable at this point in time. Language is directly related to identity, culture and community. However, this fact does not mean that slang can be regarded as proper jargon in an office or school or any professional institution. One must be able to distinguish between the grammar that is acceptable in attaining a position in the professional field they choose and the grammar they use in their everyday lives. If one were to blur the lines between these two, I fear that it would be very detrimental to the student’s progress. Granted, it is not one’s place to deem another’s way of speaking as “ignorant,” but certainly how one writes and conducts oneself in a classroom or office is a reflection on their education, values and (sometimes) the way they were raised. We cannot change the standard of English in the professional world, we can only aid students in comprehending what is expected of them .To fill their minds with the contemplation of every single aspect of grammar, I feel, would lead them to greater confusion rather than inspiration.

Ms. Curzan marks her papers without a true sense of right and wrong–this can be crippling to the student. Sometimes it seems as though her views are so incredibly “politically correct” that one wonders if she may end up giving her students mixed messages in regards to “proper grammar.”She seems to use the Socratic method quite a bit in her comments by following a possible mistake with a question. However, for a student who is a Biology major with midterm exams fast approaching, this kind of comment is useless to her.  The student must recognize when she has broken a prescriptive rule and the person who is checking her paper must have a clear knowledge of what it means to do so.


About amandap781

Junior at Rutgers University English/Linguistics Double Major
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One Response to The Grammar Conspiracy

  1. Fantastic and thorough job!


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