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Who cares about grammar?

The prompt this week has very little to do with elections (unless you count the value of the arts and education in society, which we do). Who really does care about grammar and why? It's not so much about the formality that counts as the clarity good grammar imbues into the written language.

Who cares about grammar?

That’s like asking who cares about road rules? The answer is that instinctively, we all do. Grammar is the framework and componentry of a language. Without grammar, there would be chaos and we would be unable to communicate with each other with any degree of sophistication.

We instinctively adhere to the road rules for the same reason. We need road rules so that large numbers of vehicles can coexist on the streets without colliding. That’s not to say that all of us know what the rules literally are. As a writer, I am well aware that my knowledge of grammar is sadly lacking, even though I seem to know the rules instinctively. Ask me how to use a split infinitive and I’ll give you a blank stare.

Even in writing, being ignorant of the rules is no excuse when challenged by law enforcement. I know the editor of the SSOA blog will throw the book at me in the event of a serious misdemeanour.

The real question is, does it matter if we don’t know the rules? The answer to that question is that it depends on the circumstances. Road rules matter in the middle of Pitt Street surrounded by red light cameras and 40Km/h speed limits, but they are irrelevant on a private road on a farm.

We also live in these parallel realities in the world of language. It is perfectly acceptable to break the rules of grammar when using SMS and social media, because minimising the word count when delivering the message is the key consideration. In literature, where writers are building a world with words, structure matters. A language architect may be admired for designing a structure that is unconventional. That said, there is nothing commendable about a structure that is so poorly designed it's in danger of collapse.

To be deliberately unconventional, a writer should first have some knowledge of what conventions there are, possibly to be broken.

Robert Carrick

Tatiana cares about grammar. Very much.

She is a very 'stern-upon-first-meeting-her-but-opens-up-to-you-once-she’s-warmed-up-to-you' kind of person.

I met her in Spain in 2015 while on exchange. We both took the advanced Spanish class, but Tatiana was clearly ahead of everyone, knowing all the verb tenses, the exceptions to the rules of prepositions and where to put all the accents. She had studied languages as an undergraduate and had studied Spanish for many years before arriving in Spain.

I am not one for rules. I'm more interested in getting my point across.

In class one day, to try to get her attention by being funny - this is how I get people to warm up to me - I purposefully used the verb 'like' in the wrong way in a sentence. I said it to my partner, but loud enough so Tatiana would hear me, two chairs away, while she was completing the exercise with someone else.

Not to my surprise, I could see the top of Tatiana’s black head of hair rear up. She was clearly set off, and uncomfortable, but not wanting to respond to my provocation in front of others, her head dropped down again, and she returned to her exercise with her assigned partner.

At the end of class, she cornered me in one corner of the classroom and explained to me why my sentence was grammatically incorrect. I laughed and thanked her for imparting her knowledge to me, saying she was making be a better Spanish speaker every day.

I sometimes miss those days before she warmed to me. These days, we are good friends, and she doesn’t correct me on my grammar - or at least not as much.

(Let's see if she has any objection to the grammar in this blog piece. If so, I'll let you know ...)

Clara Andrade

Copyright: text - Robert Carrick, Clara Andrade; photos - Wix.

This SSOA blog showcases the original thoughts and writing of emerging writers who attend our weekly writers' meetups. We can be reached via the contact page. Or find us on #sydney_school_of_arts

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