Bad grammar or evolving language?

Users of fruit-stand punctuation, beware: The produce may be sweet, but those signs for “apple’s” and “peach’s” turn grammarians sour. 

Case in point: Jeff Deck, a magazine editor, and Benjamin Herson, a bookseller, who two years ago undertook a road trip specifically to mark out and correct ungrammatical signs at stores, gas stations, parks and public buildings. For their efforts, they were thanked, threatened and, as a result of fixing bad grammar on a sign at the Grand Canyon, fined $3,000 and ordered not to speak publicly about typos for a year.

Why bother? “If you put a bunch of typos out for the world to see, people might draw conclusions about attention detail in other matters,” Deck told the news service Reuters in August.

He and Herson aren’t alone in their zeal. “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” reached No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller List after it was published in 2003.

Even Weird Al has gotten in on the grammar-correction act:

 So what’s the deal? Our grandparents tell us about grammar drills, spelling bees and mountains of homework, diagramming sentences. Has the United States lost its grip on proper English?

The nation has never been more literate than it is today. According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s “World Factbook,” 99 percent of Americans over age 15 can read and write. However, as many as half of them have eighth-grade reading skills or lower.

This could pose serious problems in a nation poised to dominate the world economy. Yet a renegade contingent of linguists – specialists in the study of language who are just as dedicated to the understandability of English as the grammar wonks – contend that U.S. English often makes sense even when it’s incorrect. For example, consider the ever-blurring distinction between singular and plural modifiers and verbs, says Robert Beard, a doctor of linguistics whose Web presence is Dr. Goodword.

“Do we really need –s when we already have many, five, few in the sentence?” he writes at his site, AlphaDictionary. “The Chinese and Vietnamese have built advanced civilizations on languages limited to phrases like those [without –s to form plurals].”

Beard adds: “If the plural is abandoning English, it is too early to be sure. However, if the process has begun, there is no stopping it, so tormenting your kids with constant grammatical corrections will not work.”

Says who? For the moment, correct English makes us look educated, even trustworthy and competent – all important attributes in life, not only on the world scene.Although it’s tempting to be a pacesetter, is it worth risking our reputations to thumb our noses at grammar?


About Holly Ocasio Rizzo

I'm the one at the front of the classroom.
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