Oliver Kamm spoke to a packed meeting in Lewes last night, on the subject of language. I thought I’d share a couple of the highlights on The Language List blog page.
Oliver wondered about why so many wonderful communicators, including his fellow Times journalist Daniel Finkelstein, can be so diffident about their own grasp of grammar. Oliver is forever being questioned by friends and colleagues on whether Y or Y is grammatically correct – almost as if they fear being found wanting by pedants who feel that the English language is under threat. “Go with your gut instinct” is his inevitable reply.
We are all experts at our own language, even the young children who are trying out new sentences for the first time. Phrases like “I eated the biscuits” should not be seen as a mistake, but as the remarkable manifestation of a young child having absorbed grammar rules and then applying them logically. Stephen Pinker talks about language as being intrinsic to the human condition, in his book “The language instinct”.
If there is one language in the world that is not in danger, it’s English. If so many people speak it, how can it be? Has there ever been a case in history, where people have begun to struggle to communicate, because the health of their language has so disintegrated due to sloppy grammar or careless use? It’s ridiculous to contemplate. Language exists for communication, and it is continually changing in order to help meet this objective.
Let’s accept the wonder that literally hundreds and hundreds of grammar rules are followed, effortlessly, by native speakers. Celebrating this is so much more invigorating than pedantry.
In the context of learning English as a foreign language, the rules can perhaps be daunting, but our tutors are here to help!