This is a question which has been plaguing me for quite some time. A couple of years ago, I became really interested in grammar, primarily because I began learning how grammar works in languages other than English. I learnt about cases and word order, about tenses and moods, about voices and pronouns, about both necessary and superfluous punctuation. I applied what I learnt about these foreign languages to the one I knew best. I was suddenly conscious of many rules which I had been subliminally using since childhood.
But then I began to wonder about the ones I didn’t use in everyday speech. I used to say phrases like “me and my friends are close” all the time, rather than “my friends and I are close”. After learning German cases, I soon corrected myself. Yet I still heard my friends saying similar phrases each day, and the meaning they wished to convey to me was by no means hindered. In such cases was there any point in me trying to use correct grammar, when no change in meaning occurred?
I re-read “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, which was published in 1813, while contemplating such thoughts. I noticed changes between the language she used and the one I do, such as the use of “to be” as an auxillary verb in the perfect tense of “to come”, instead of using “to have” as an auxillary. Nowadays, we say “The child has come to our house before”, whereas in Pride and Prejudice, one of the characters in the novel says, “But now that my dear uncle is come, I hope everything will be fine.” Today, it would sound wrong to say “is come” instead of “has come”, and would be only barely understandable to some people. It would be incorrect of us to ignore the evolution of language to become the way it is today. Should we then try to speak the most current form of language that exists, which could mean using seemingly incorrect phrases, such as “me and my friends”? The use of “has come” instead of “is come” probably came about because people’s grammatical mistakes eventually became accepted.
There are also differences in language dependent on age, gender, social class, situation etc. – the list goes on. We are all different individuals after all, with completely different idiolects. Idiolect means the patterns of language which you alone use: for example, I would say “it’s creepy” to convey a certain meaning, but others would say, “it gives me the creeps” to convey the same thing. What interests me is how others perceive us due to our use of certain phrases, which may sound normal to use to us, but do not to them. Although there may be no change in meaning when a person says the word “ain’t” in place of “is not”, there may be a change in the way he or she is regarded by others. Maybe this person, however intelligent or good his ideas, would be taken less seriously by others.
I suppose a person could very easily argue that this whole article is completely and utterly pointless, because langage is only a tool for conveying ideas and thoughts. Yet I want to speak the best English I possibly can, I want to be using this language correctly. There are some things about English that I just can’t seem to do right, because I don’t know what is right. I’ve probably used “that” in place of “which” and vice versa throughout this post, because everyone and everything I’ve consulted is committed to a different view on the matter. Even if grammar does matter, we may be unable to use it correctly anyway.
I don’t really know how to conclude an article like this, because I sort of feel like I’ve been going round in circles, but I’ll try to sum up the main points. Grammar could be seen as pointless in some aspects, because grammatically incorrect sentences often have the same meaning as correct ones. Language evolves greatly, so these grammatical errors may soon become accepted, making them the most current (and possibly best) form of the language which exists. Although incorrect grammar may not change the meaning of a message, it may affect the way in which the speaker is viewed, due to differences in idiolect. Even if grammar is important, it can be difficult to distinguish correct grammar from incorrect grammar.
I’m completely new to blogging, but I really hope some of you will tell me your views on this subject, because it’s one I’m eager to discuss (there aren’t many people I know who care about it as much as I do, but hopefully there will be on the Internet). I welcome any criticism, because that’s the only way I’ll improve!
Thanks for reading and please let me know your thoughts!