On reflection, I couldn't be a worse host for an English language website.
I started my schooling as the majority did in my area, at the local primary school. I then went to the local secondary school and received grades in English, Maths, Physics, Biology, Geography, Art, Graphical Communication and Philosophy of Religion. I'll not bore you with the 'A' levels and above.
Notice the ambiguous English qualification above. It was, in truth, a course dedicated to reading "Lord of the flies" and other gems, and a weak attempt at getting us to comprehend them. Luckily my middle-class upbringing gave me a head start as I was already acquainted with the sort of language these books used and had read similar books before. I will never be able to put that particular course down as much as I desire to because, for all its faults, it introduced me to Steinbeck, Malkovich and the wonders of Lenny, mice and pockets.
My education never included one iota of grammar. Lynn Truss points out in "Eats, shoots and leaves" that many people were excused from the rigours of learning English grammar during their schooling over the last 30 or so years because the majority of decision-makers decided one day that it might hinder imagination and expression (so what, I ask, happened to all those expressive and imaginative people before the ruling?).
Anyway, my point is that I have never received any form of formal English language education, and a great deal of native speakers my age would be able to claim the same.
What does this imply for the future of the language, I wonder?
I have managed to pick up a few pointers from my involvement in the UsingEnglish project I started up with TDOL about 10 years ago, but I've never made an effort to learn about what our site and tools teach. Sure, some of it has rubbed off, but in my experience it takes a degree of will and determination to learn the finer points of a language, and frankly I don't have the time to do so. Does this mean that I'm forever cast into the pit alongside other grammar hooligans and others that repeatedly misuse their own language through naievity and lack of any sort of drive to learn that particular topic?
I wonder, does the current education policy of displacing grammar for more sexy topics mean that we, as native speakers, are placing the future of our language in the hands of NNES?
Does it actually matter that I've no idea what a non-defining relative clause is in the real world? No, it doesn't, because I've yet to be tested by anyone on that particular subject in my 30+ years on this Earth.
So why does it matter to me?
Well, I guess that as host of this forum, and webmaster of UsingEnglish.com, my eyes have been opened. There is a whole world of argument and intrigue out there about matters as surreal as where a particular comma goes and whether someone should have used that semi-colon. There is the ability to master an understanding of a language that is "in me" already (and therefore I have a head start). But most importantly, there is the choice of expression available to a well versed grammarian that is not available to Joe Bloggs, the writer.
My formal grammar is still poor, and I've no expectation that it will improve drastically, and I blame this on my schooling. I don't have the choices of expression that grammarians do.
What is your experience with learning English grammar? Did you learn it at school or did you teach yourself?
How has it enabled your life (if at all)?
Here endeth my monologue.
Categories: Speaking Out