Top Shelf: Is grammar elitist?

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When you correct grammar as a job, it bleeds into your real life.  (Nate Burgos/Flickr, Creative Commons)

When you correct grammar as a job, it bleeds into your real life. (Nate Burgos/Flickr, Creative Commons)

I’m an English and journalism double major, a copy editor here at the newspaper and the go-to person in my friend group whenever anyone needs something edited. Understanding grammar is a necessity for me. I’ve always been naturally inclined to the rules of it, and even when I wasn’t, my father was on my case about using English properly and would make me repeat myself until I phrased something correctly.

When you correct grammar as a job, it bleeds into your real life. Text speech is one thing, but using the improper form of “your” or using “jealous” when you mean “envious” is another. The mistakes stick out to me, and I notice them in everything from menus to posters to text messages.

For a long time, I was that person who corrected people mid-sentence or replied to texts with corrections and asterisks. But why? What did I gain from it? A sense of being better than the person I corrected? A feeling that for one moment, I was better at something than my STEM major friends?

Someone approached me one day and told me that correcting people’s grammar was elitist. English is a lot of people’s second language, and mastering our endless and often senseless grammatical rules can be near impossible. Not everyone comes from a background where they had access to a good-enough education to teach them the ins-and-outs of grammar. And at the end of the day, if I can understand what you’re saying, does it actually matter if you used the right form of “your” or had a comma splice in your sentence? Is being “right” that important?

I think, largely, it depends on your audience. Text messages and casual conversation matter little in terms of correctness. Texting has its own set of grammar rules to begin with; I hardly ever capitalize my sentences and, for that matter, hardly ever use complete sentences at all while texting. There is a time and place for everything, and my friend accidentally texting “This is all to much” while having a bad day probably isn’t the time to correct her grammar. Not to mention, everyone makes mistakes sometimes. God knows I’ve typed too quickly and messed up before.

That being said, society definitely puts a lot of pressure on grammar in the professional world. Have you and your coworkers ever made fun of your boss for sending you an email with a really obvious typo? Or just look at how Twitter blows up every time Donald Trump tweets something with a spelling error.

Grammar is elitist because you need it to be taken seriously in the professional world. It’s become a sign of education but also a sign of class. I think this is important to a large extent, simply because it has to be. We need some kind of ground rules we all follow. This consistency makes it easier to understand each other, and quick judgments like how well-written someone’s cover letter is allows for employers to move through applications quicker.

That being said, quick judgments are obviously a gateway to a lot of stereotyping. The white, educated grammar is the one we deem “correct,” but linguistically speaking, there is no correct form of English. Different cultures within America and the English-speaking world as a whole have their own dialects and forms of the English language.

The most prevalent example of this is African-American Vernacular English, which, while a lot of the country looks at as grammatically incorrect and informal, is actually a specific dialect with its own set of grammatical rules. It’s not that it breaks traditional grammar rules; it has its own.

But, again, since we’ve made grammar rather elitist, we write off things that are different as wrong and don’t stop to wonder why. In reality, if you look at anyone learning English as a second language, their grammatical mistakes aren’t random; most-often, they’re applying the grammar rules from their own language to English.

Yes, I think grammar is important, but I also know when to shut up about it. I’m not going to isolate and embarrass someone for making a mistake. I think published writing should be error-free and easy to understand for the sake of coherency and professionalism, but the same standards don’t apply to the rest of my verbal and written interactions. At the end of the day, if I can understand you, what does it really matter?


Courtney Gavitt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at courtney.gavitt@uconn.edu.

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