Friday, January 21, 2011

Language: Spoken and Written

I was taught very little grammar in school. Now I am learning the rules one by one. Old habits are hard to break. I've figured out who and whom. I battle the lay and lie confusion daily. I've stopped saying and writing the word 'hopefully.' I know that good is the adjective and well is the adverb. Now I have to cut out my excessive commas.



And from The Elements of Clunk at The Chronicle:

Standard written English is a whole other language from its spoken (and texted) counterpart, with conventions not just of punctuation but also of many shortcuts to meaning—streamlined words and phrases, ellipses (omitted word or words), idioms, figures of speech—that have developed over many years. You learn them by reading. And if you haven't read much, when you set pen to paper yourself, you take things more slowly and apply a literal-minded logic, as you would in finding your way through a dark house.

And:

Here's what's happening, as I see it. My students aren't unique but represent a portion of the millennial generation: at least moderately intelligent, reasonably well-educated young people. When they write in a formal setting—for a class assignment or for publication in a blog or a magazine—they almost always favor length over brevity, ornateness over simplicity, literalness over figuration. The reasons, I hypothesize, are a combination: the wandering-the-house-in-the-dark factor, hypercorrection brought on by chronic uncertainty, and the truth that once people start talking or writing, they like to do so as long as they can, even if the extra airtime comes from saying "myself" instead of "I."

13 comments:

Mirjam said...

What's wrong with hopefully?
:)

Skeller said...

oh dear. you may have opened a can of worms with the "hopefully" comment ... ;-)

freedom journey said...

Glad I'm not the only one who was not taught grammar in school and is learning it piecemeal now. Do you have any favorite grammar books or websites?

Beth said...

Hopefully you'll expand on the usage of "hopefully".

:)

Seriously, though, what's up?

Heidi said...

:) I only have a second, but I'll try to give an example. If I say, 'Hopefully, I'll be heading to bed soon.' Then I am soon heading to bed in a hopeful manner. What I *mean* to say is that, 'I HOPE to head to bed soon.'

mdvlist said...

Thanks for linking to that article; you draw my attention to many like it that I would otherwise miss. As for hopefully, I hope you don't worry TOO much about that one. "Who" vs. "whom" is one thing, but when it comes down to things we say all the time (and which sound perfectly correct to most people), there's often a sophisticated grammatical excuse for them. I've heard "hopefully" in the "incorrect" sense called a "sentient adverb," which is to say that the spirit of hopefulness pervades the sentence that follows without regard for the verb that "hopefully" would modify if one were to diagram the sentence in the strictest sense. To some, "I hope to go to bed soon" might sound so stilted, antiquated, etc., that in context, it might actually be preferable to go with "hopefully" as a matter of style. (I think Mark Twain would agree, at least!) We all have our pet peeves, of course, and I think we're entitled to them. I tried desperately (and, for the most part, fruitlessly) to get my college students to use "however" as a postpositive conjunction (which it is in English as "autem" is in Latin), not for the sake of being the strictest of grammarians, but because it's simply more elegant if used correctly.

mdvlist said...

Ps. I surveyed my Facebook friends on the question and so far, I have responses from nine academics, including an Oxford classicist, who don't care at all about the supposed misuse of "hopefully." So if your kids use it "incorrectly" in a college paper some day, they'll probably get away with it. :)

Heidi said...

mdvlist~ I enjoyed your comments. I'll try not to stress if it slips out. :) Any suggestions for my next bad grammar habit to break? (I can only work on one at a time.)

mdvlist said...

Hee hee, *of course* I suggest watching your use of "however" (conj.), but only if you have run out of other things to fix. I tell you, it is a sorry lot to have a pet peeve that matters to practically no one else.

Heidi said...

mdvlist~ I quite enjoy grammar even though I am a complete novice on the subject. I had to google "postpositive conjunction." :) (I learned about postpositive adjectives while I was at it.) So, inelegantly (grin) written would be: "I am not an expert grammarian, however I enjoy learning how to speak and write correctly." And elegantly written would be: "I am not an expert grammarian. I do, however, enjoy learning how to speak and write correctly." Is that correct? Or should it be at the end of the sentence? Ah, that opens up all sorts of questions. Would "correctly" in those sentences be a postpositive adverb? :) And do I need commas before and after "however?" May I start a sentence with "and?" Why does that ? inside "" look incorrect? ..... ;D So much to learn. So little time.

mdvlist said...

I think you've figured out "however," although I might actually put it after "enjoy" in your example above. I like to see it embedded in a sentence that way because it serves to set apart and thereby emphasize the element of contrast, and your contrast there is between expertise and enjoyment. A less subtle example would be something like the following: "I would not walk across the street for a hamburger, even if it were free and atypically picturesque. For a hot dog, however, I would journey to the ends of the earth." Using "however" this way definitely requires flanking commas.

Fortunately, I don't think we have to worry about postpositive adverbs-- I don't at least. :) I always struggle with the question mark stuck inside quotation marks when it's meant for the whole sentence, not for the quotation . . . but it is irritatingly correct. And you can totally start a sentence with "and" if you are writing a blog comment. A blogger can also make up for any slight grammatical weaknesses with aesthetic panache, so take heart. You have that amply covered.

Luke said...

My wife got me The Dictionary of Disagreeable English a few years back. Good times. But It still write stuff like "good times" anyway.

~Luke

Mrs. Querido said...

LOL..loved the video!