Confidence in Grammar is Confidence in Rhetoric

I had never before considered the nature of grammar. The rules of grammar were something that I was taught in early education, and have blindly followed for my entire educational career. Before our class discussion on grammar, I thought that if writing was grammatically correct, then it was correct. If academic writing did not follow the rules of grammar, then it would be reflected in the assignment’s grade. Anne Curzan’s article, Says Who? Teaching and Questioning the Rules of Grammar, along with our class discussion brought me to the realization that use of grammar can be a choice. This choice, being that it is planned and intentional, is an act of rhetoric.

Two characteristics of rhetoric, as explained by Herrick, are that it is planned and adapted to an audience. In Curzan’s article, she touches on the idea that grammar should be questioned when taught in the educational system. She states that grammar should not be taught as a “Because I say so” subject. By questioning the standards of grammar, students will not only have the better understanding of the subject that Curzan stresses, but will also be better able to understand the best uses of grammar. With a thorough understanding and confidence in the subject matter, writers will be better equipped to be adaptive in the use of grammar. The way I see it, just as a medical school graduate is better equipped to know the best medicine for a specific patient, a writer who has been correctly taught the nature of grammar is better equipped to adapt its usage to a specific audience.

By taking a planned approach in the use of grammar, the writer becomes a rhetorician. This use of rhetoric is not through the choice of words used, but in the most basic rules of the way in which these words are written. When grammar is not blindly followed, but used as a tool of conveying a message, it can become a powerful form of rhetoric.

Blue line

Anyone who has ever used Microsoft Word knows that blue line under a “grammatical error,” yes? Not only are some of their corrections actually wrong, but trying to type up a creative piece? Oh good luck, all ye weary authors. Grammar rules leave no room for accents in voice, style changes to show dialogue compared to a written word, or even just the personality behind the narration. I should probably turn off the grammar and spell check, but I’m dyslexic, so that really wouldn’t help me at all.

Curzan’s piece of grammar said a few things that struck me. First she said that proper, Standard English is on a pedestal of no challenges that it has no right to be on. What does make people think that Standard English is the right way at all?  Discoveries and progress are only made when people experiment and challenge previously accepted ideas.

Secondly she said that even with a standard set of rules, different teachers enforce different rules. Pretty sure every student has had at least one English teacher contradict the writing rules of another, so we all know this is true. But how is this possible with a claimed “Standard English” that is supposed to be the written rule?

Third she mentioned this idea that teachers have that if students are allowed to challenge the rules of English grammar, we won’t bother learning the rules at all. I don’t know about you, but most of the time I learn a rule so as not to break it. However, when it comes to my stylistic choices of my creative writing, I tend to look at the rules, and go, “Oh, okay that’s the rule, yeah, no I’m good with breaking it.” Granted, I don’t do this for every rule, but if I followed proper “Standard English” in the book I’m writing the way I do in academic papers, all my characters would sound like badly programmed droids. They’re people, I’m going to let them talk the way actual people talk.

The “Plague of Plagiarism” Solution

While reading “Forget About Policing Plagiarism. Just Teach.” by Rebecca Howard and hearing my classmates’ thoughts, I discovered a new perspective on plagiarism and cheating that I had never thought of before. I learned that classmates are not the only perpetrators of plagiarism- some teachers play a role in encouraging this type of behavior as well. It is unfair for teachers to constantly expect new, creative, and individualistic work when they do not give this kind of work themselves. The article states that teachers even gloat about how easy it has become to spot plagiarism because of technology advancements. If they feel and share such excitement about how easy it is to catch cheaters that they gloat about it, I question why they would not understand their students’ excitement over how easy technology has made it to do the actual cheating. Building upon that, if they could understand how easy it is to cheat nowadays, why do many teachers assist this process by recycling their same work and assignments year after year? Instead of assigning tasks and activities that make their students think for themselves and express creativity and interest, the same untailored, basic questions are brought about for multiple years in a row, no matter who the students are, how they learn, or how society grows. As the article states, “We expect authentic writing from our students, yet do not write authentic assignments for them”. I believe this is where the entire “plague” sprouted. If teachers, being the role models of the classroom, put in more effort and interest into the class work, students will reciprocate by giving back that same kind of respect, attention, and original effort. As a result, the teacher-student bond will be more beneficial for both sides of the relationship due to the heavier challenges and richer accomplishments involved.

Rhetoric in Grammar

I thought yesterday’s class regarding grammar was interesting because it totally relates to rhetoric. Adjusting the level of grammar you’re using to your audience is just another persuasive technique. By using a familiar type of grammar, you can make you’re audience feel comfortable. When writing a blog, like I am now, I feel less restricted in my grammar usage and language. For a narrative, it is a more relaxed piece of writing. For that type of writing, it is not necessary to have perfect grammar otherwise it will come off as too formal.

When writing a paper for a class, I feel more inclined to make sure my grammar is as formal as possible. I want to be professional and use my best grammar. For a paper for my science courses, I need to use a specific grammar and type of writing to fit that need. When I write a research paper, I need to use specific jargon to appeal to the audience. By appealing to the audience, I am further using rhetoric.

You can even relate rhetoric in grammar in everyday speech. I speak completely differently depending on if I am speaking to my friends, my parents or grandparents, or my professors. When speaking to my friends, it is similar to narrative, informal writing. Which makes sense because if I am writing a narrative I am generally basing it to a informal audience, as I do when I am speaking. When speak to my bosses or professors, I have a more formal language to try to relate to them, similar to formal writing.

Social Status and Grammar

One thing that I thought was really interesting in yesterday’s class discussion was how much social status affected grammar of today. I thought it was really interesting how, in the days before the printing press, reading and books were specifically for the rich. Before the printing press was invented, books were written by hand and were obviously pricier.

Once the printing press was invented, however, books became much more available to people. Around that time, literacy education became much easier to access by people of the lower class so reading overall became much more accessible. This, unfortunately, did not bode well for people in power.

To combat this new struggle for power, the upper class decided to update the rules, and thus came the creation of grammar.

The main thing that intrigued me in this was the fact that the creation of grammar was due to a struggle for power. There was no legitimate need for grammar, but the people in power decided that to keep their status, they needed to create a whole new realm of thinking in the English language.

Rhetoric factors into play here because of the fact that the rich needed to convince the poor that they were better than them by making up new rules of language, and that just blows my mind. These people were so insecure in their power that they needed to make new rules up to keep their power.

Grammar & Code Switching: Schuylkill County Dialect

Kayla brought up code switching in class today while we were talking about the rules of grammar. Code switching is a really interesting concept because it happens all the time without people immediately noticing. The concept of proper grammar is almost non-existent outside educational settings where I’m from. I’m from the coal region in northeastern PA and we apparently have a dialogue of our own. We use the very informal plural of the word “you” and say, “you’s.” Something that really bothers me is that where I’m from, people don’t believe in the word “saw.” That sounds strange, but it’s very common to hear a person say, “I seen that.” It drives me crazy. They’re also very big on the double negatives. All of these things bother me to no end but when it comes to code switching, getting a group of Schuylkill county kids together, I’ve been told, is a nightmare. My roommate, Libby, is also from northeastern PA but not from the coal region. Once, a group of my friends from home came for a visit. I didn’t find this out until days later, but my roommate apparently could not follow any conversation we had. She said she laughed because we were laughing, but more often than not she had no idea what was going on. Apparently, when a group of us get together, we tend to drop consonant sounds out of words and we are notorious for shortening everything that we say. This never occurred to me until Libby pointed it out, but thinking about it is really funny. She says that when I’m alone with her, she can almost never hear it until I break out a Schuylkill county word that she doesn’t recognize like “flitch” or “byantny,” but she can hear hints of the code switching when she hears me on the phone with somebody from home. This is just one example but it’s something that happens without me noticing until it’s pointed out to me, and I think that’s the case in most instances of code switching.

I got a pocket, got a pocket full of…?

The conversation of “is google making people stupid” is often looked at with a lot of biased. When I think of google, I think of opportunities to become self-taught in a multitude of areas. Yesterday we touched on gen-ed classes and how at the end of the day students take the classes to become a more well rounded person—and this could start another conversation about those that do not have the privilege of attending university—but youtube presents the opportunity for those to learn things that actually interest you. Thanks to google a person can become an artist (Bob Ross) and learn to play an instrument, learn how to cook, learn how to take better care of yourself and can become a better you. You can learn how to take better care of your hair, skin, nails; how to eat healthier and exercise. Google, when used to its full potential, can be life changing and per with the current educational system. I think that people often time use google so we don’t have to remember the small stuff. Someone yesterday brought up the fact that they use google look up a telephone number or small info and thats what its used for more frequently than the transformative powers that it have. Google has the potential to change a person entire life and outlook so, is google making us stupid? Absolutely not.