Monday, 15 March 2010

Why bother with grammar?

I have a strange anatomical disorder in that my tongue sometimes gets stuck in my cheek and I find it very hard to dislodge. Bear that in mind.

I wasn't expecting Adrian to reply to my recent post about his use of capitalisation, but he has, maybe out of sheer shock that someone else was interested in those sorts of things. Well, I am. Very much so. And according to Dr. Johnson - lexicographer extraordinaire - so is God.

This is straight out of my English Language course book:

These arguments [in favour of 'correct' English], a further aspect of the eighteenth-century discourse of standardisation, were sometimes given a divine justification. In an earlier section we discussed the idea that everything in nature was an expression of God’s order. If the way a society is organised – its ‘constitution’, to use Johnson’s word – can be claimed as part of nature, then it, too, reflects God’s will. The ‘genius’ of English – to quote Johnson again (2006 [1755], paragraph 61) – reflected the English way of life, and part of this genius was its grammar. To deviate from correct grammar, then, was to displease God. The grammarian Robert Lowth, who was to become a bishop, and for whom the English translation of the Bible was the ‘best standard of our language’, thought that correct grammar was next to godliness.

(Emphasis mine)

As much as I would love to agree, I can't actually find the biblical basis for the grammar being pleasing to God. Perhaps Psalm 45? My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.

(Emphasis mine... my own... my preciousss...)

Now there is some debate about whether correct grammar is in fact a spiritual gift, which I am currently researching. It appears that there is some ambiguity over the translation of 1 Corinthians 12, as the phrase "utterance of knowledge" in Greek is very similar to "knowing where to correctly place apostrophes". There have been documented cases of Christians being ex-communicated for selling "CD's and DVD's" at car boot sales. Most of these stories emerge from the low-profile reformed group known as Sola Punctura, who claim that when Jesus cleared the tradesmen from the temple it was because their display boards were advertising two "goat's" for the price of one.

Also, what was Jesus writing in the sand in John 8? One theory suggests that he wrote several grammatical rules, upon seeing which the Pharisees became ashamed of their failures and sloped off.

I'm trying not to be a grammar pharisee - enforcing the little laws and forgetting that the heart of language is relationship.

That's why I'm going to use a preposition to finish this post with.

No comments: