Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Correct Use of Language is a "Badge of Competence"

From the January issue of Prospect comes "Mother Tongue," a clear, well-argued piece by Richard Jenkyns, in which he argues that correct use of language is not a mark of elitism but rather a "badge of competence."

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

Of two examples of awful prose: "One of the reasons that this is bad prose is that it is dishonest prose: in each of these passages the writer is trying to hide the fact that she has very little to say." Similarly, he notes, "the study of popular culture easily tends to statement of the obvious, and its practitioners naturally want to disguise that fact."

And the key point:

We should learn educated English, as we should learn to spell, if only because it is a certificate of competence. Mistakes like "should of" or "flaunt" for "flout" are literally childish: they are the result of people picking up language by imitation, as children do, and misunderstanding what they have heard. We should flaunt the rules of grammar, not flout them, if only to show that we know what we are up to. But there is a nobler reason for knowing the rules, and that is that it enables one to speak more variously and effectively.

Articles like this one gladden the heart of this former English teacher.

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