Wordplay is a blog project featuring posts from students enrolled in ENG 320 Grammar and Linguistics (Fall 2019)

Bad Grammar No More

by Madison Franklin

I was raised in Alliance, Nebraska, but my accent will tell you I was born in Texas. Since I am originally from Texas, I say a lot of different things most people who are not from Texas would not – “y’all” being one of them. Is this a bad thing? Does the difference in the way I speak compared to those around me mean my grammar is incorrect? Could this even mean I am unable to comprehend what most consider “standard English”? The answer to each of these questions is “no” and I am going to explain to you why.  

Cover image of Power of Babel. (photo credit)

The question that I ask is if there truly is a such thing as “bad grammar”? Most people believe so. John McWorther, the author of The Power of Babel, explains that “bad grammar” is simply a social judgment placed onto those who speak differently. These judgements are proven artificial and truly cannot be made against those who are unfamiliar with the way that they speak. McWhorther goes on to state that grammar has many different versions contrary to what most think. Most languages run into others. In this, most dialect in one language is also used in another. This is defined as “dialect continua”. 

Another aspect of language that we must bring into consideration is slang. Of course, most places in the world speak English and with that, each place will develop their very own special version slang. As slang progresses, languages seem to change. This does not mean languages will lose touch of originality. Even through drastic changes and alternatives, each language maintains the original idea behind each word or symbol. This fact provides a sense of security behind the worry of the originality of each word fading.  In relation to language, this is how a lot of things work. Although my mom may have learned to cook from her mom, this does not mean my mom’s style of cooking will not change. The first Ford Mustang may not be identical to the latest Ford model, but the original idea and factors are still portrayed. As times change and years go on, so will our family recipes, our cars, and even our own language.  

Dr. Charles Postel, 2019 Pilster Lecturer at Chadron State College (photo credit)

Another viewpoint on this topic was brought to my attention which was written by Charles Postel. Mr. Postel is a History professor at San Franciso State University. Postel connected the growth of populism with the growth of language in more ways than one. In most of the readings over the specific topics of grammar, language and dialect follows the guidelines that were created with standard grammar that is supported to be correct by researchers because of this simple fact. Any language or dialect that follows rules outside of the standard guidelines is believed to be incorrect which is also defined as “bad grammar”. I think this is wrong. Postel went on to explain he believes the reputation that has been given to populists is wrong, too.  

The beginning groups of populists were judged for multiple reasons by surrounding political parties and other Americans. Populists were labeled “complicated and angry”. This was simply because populists shared unique views on different topics and took diverse actions than what most political parties chose to take. Most citizens who disagreed with populists and the idea of populism, emphasized what they did not stand for rather than what they did. This relationship relates to the grammar debate. It is rather easy for someone to judge what another cannot accomplish rather than what they can. This is when our social judgement comes into place whether this is conscious or not.  

Overall, there are so many factors to consider when classifying someone you may know with a case of “bad grammar”. Are you a believer that “bad grammar” even exists? That is something you will have to decide.  


References:

McWhorter, John. The Power Of Babel: a Natural History of Language. Cornerstone Digital, 2011 

Postel, Charles. What Were the Populists Thinking? A Great Plains Lecture,  Chadron State College, Sept. 19, 2019 


Madison Franklin is a sophomore at Chadron State College studying Elementary Education.

3 thoughts on “Wordplay Blog: Bad Grammar No More

  1. Madison, I really enjoy your introduction where you are listing a group of questions and then quickly follow it up with a simple answer. I agree with the fact that proper grammar has little to do with the actual language being spoke but rather social judgement. Grammar seems to be an insignificant way in showing division among social class or region. Great job!

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  2. After our class discussions on “The Power of Babel”, I have definitely questioned what bad grammar is truly defined as. The author makes several remarks throughout the book that imply that bad grammar is not as black and white as we may believe. I do not believe that your accent or the terms that you use that differ from the language spoken around this region constitutes as “bad grammar”, and instead it is simply a differentiation in the same language. Although, there is some language or the way some people speak that I believe to be incorrect and can recognize that it does not sound pleasant. For example, I have heard many people that use “see” incorrectly, in terms of the tense. Some will say “I seen those people”, instead of “I saw those people”. Now this may seem obviously wrong to some, but this way of speaking can be categorized as a regional characteristic and is used by a group of particular people, children/adults, rather than just a young kid still learning the English language. Whether or not “bad grammar” really exists is definitely a matter of opinion which is influenced by several different aspects. Good post!

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  3. Great topic Madison! I think that this is something we as future educators will need to consider when it comes to teaching “correct” grammar. I see both sides to this argument. There are numerous dialects and languages within our country, states, and even cities, and regardless of the location, we need to be open and respectful to the diverse languages that we might see in our individual classrooms. However, I do not agree that we should stray away from teaching proper grammar, because while student’s home dialect might be different, they still require the proper education and assistance to be able to adequately speak and write with correct grammar. The idea of “correct” grammar might differ between regions, but to be successful in the professional world, students must have this background.

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