In the everyday context of reading and interpreting the written word. Does grammar matter? Should those who have good grammatical skills refrain from criticism?
Should those lacking good English desist from airing a view even though the value of their contribution is unquestioned? Or in the broader context should those of little formal educational merit abstain from expressing an opinion?
William B Bradshaw the author of ‘The Big Ten of Grammar: Identifying and Fixing the Ten Most Frequent Grammatical Errors’ explains why grammar is important this way.
‘’Grammar is important because it is the language that makes it possible for us to talk about language. Grammar names the types of words and word groups that make up sentences not only in English but in any language. As human beings, we can put sentences together even as children–we can all do grammar. But to be able to talk about how sentences are built, about the types of words and word groups that make up sentences–that is knowing about grammar. And knowing about grammar offers a window into the human mind and into our amazingly complex mental capacity. ‘’
Now it’s pretty hard to argue with that. Good grammar is vitally important. But how important? In Tim Winton’s latest book “Eyre” (which is very conversational) he doesn’t use any quotation marks at all. And of course grammar can vary from one English speaking nation to another. And what the purists think of texting is anyone’s guess. Added to that is the flexibility of language and how new words arise and the meaning of old ones change. So language is an exceedingly malleable but a very important thing.
To be able to write written words that express the manner in which you might speak them, requires an understanding of grammar.
Books, magazines, newspapers, and blogs of this ilk require grammatical excellence. Publications of all sorts employ proof readers. They don’t trust their writers/journalists with their grammar. They seek a higher skill. And skilful they are. I have employed a few.
Which brings me to my point. This blog does not employ a proof reader. It relies on its writers to get it right. Unfortunately this writer who is almost entirely self-educated is the biggest culprit. Inevitably everything I write comes under criticism for one grammatical error or another. And rightly so I might add. So much so that, sometimes, there are more comments about my grammar than the subject of my writing.
I was born in the year of Pearl Harbor. As a lad I was sickly and my mother was very poor. My father left her after I was born. I attended five state schools in six years. Attended is the wrong word to use because I rarely did so. I had a few months at Brunswick Tech before starting work at 13. It was illegal but I did.
So my first job was with a printing company and it was in the variety of what they printed that I educated myself. I had a successful sporting career. I ran my own marketing business for the last 25 years of my working life. I completed many courses including public speaking. I finished a Dip of Fine Arts in retirement and specialised in portraiture. I learnt to play the piano and musical theory and had a number of songs recorded. I have read my poetry and short stories in places like the Vic National art Gallery, Montsalvat and many churches. I have spent a large part of my life on committees of one sort or another. As an amateur actor I have acted in many productions.
Reading and the attainment of knowledge has been a lifetime pursuit. In my work and private life I enjoyed a reputation as someone always prepared to have a go.
So should uneducated folk like me just lay on a bed in a darkened room and never share the worth of their accumulated experience.
In a piece by Indian writer and columnist Aakar Patell he comments on the virtue of education in leadership and lists a number of very educated world leaders.
“Usually, a lack of education produces two qualities. The first is the instinct to simplify. The other, a product of the first and more dangerous, is certitude. Dangerous, particularly when one is convinced that one is “decisive”—a word that really means that someone who is quick in making decisions. Sanjay Gandhi, who was barely literate (he failed in, and then dropped out of, high school), had just such a dangerous certitude”.
Speaking for myself I cannot at all agree with this conclusion. In my experience formerly uneducated people are more likely to doubt, to look beyond the simplistic, or beyond the obvious in search of greater understanding because they are closer to real life experience. Doubt I believe brings one closer to enlightenment.
Conversely there have been many successful uneducated people. Albert Enstein was a high school dropout, John D Rockefeller left school at 16. Abe Lincoln was entirely was self-educated. Paul Keating left school at age 14. Astronaut John Glenn never finished college. Neither did internet giants Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. Mark Twain was an apprentice at 11. Henry Ford left school at 17. It is thought that William Shakespeare did not attend school from 13. And of course Winston Churchill did very poorly at school.
For a more comprehensive list of successful people who have not completed their education you might try this.
So I finish where I started.
“Should those lacking good English skills desist from airing a view even though the value of their contribution is unquestioned. Or in the broader context should those of little formal educational merit abstain from expressing an opinion?”
The answer is of course an empathetic NO.
Undoubtedly there will be some who will find fault with this piece. You can email any corrections to me and I will correct them. You can as a lot of people choose to do, tell me in the comments. However, I defy any reader to say they cannot comprehend the meaning of my language.