Re: English is evolving.. what to do? what to do?

Subject: Re: English is evolving.. what to do? what to do?
From: Brad Connatser <concom -at- USIT -dot- NET>
Date: Fri, 8 Mar 1996 07:56:52 +0000

> On Sat, 6 Jan 1996 01:46:15 GMT Gary Merrill
> <merrill -at- HYPERION -dot- PDIAL -dot- INTERPATH -dot- NET> wrote:

> >> First select "Edit", then select "Cut".
> >>? To me, this screams "BAD GRAMMAR" and would have merited
> >> summary execution from my 7th grade English teacher. Yet I see
> >> this kind of thing more and more often (written by technical writers
> >> and passed by their editors). I feel that it is both ungrammatical
> >> (and am prepared to argue this with some precision) and detracts
> >> from readibility.

Actually, the "sentence" is grammatically correct. A grammar is a system
of syntactic, semantic, and phonological rules that govern speech.
"Mechanics" means anything that communicates information only through a
visual medium (punctuation, spelling, type face, and so on). The written
sentence above is mechanically (punctuation) and conventionally incorrect.
Remember that there are no punctuation marks in a spoken language. In
fact, punctuation marks are a recent invention (just before the invention
of the printing press in Europe, 15th century). So while the sentence may
have mechanical errors, it can make perfect sense to the reader, who
translates the sentence into a speech code. In fact, I would bet that
nearly one hundred percent of all general readers will read the sentence
and understand perfectly what the author is trying to convey. However, do
the mechanical flaws interfere with the reading process? That is, do the
readers who recognize that the sentence is mechanically flawed stop
reading to mentally note the flaw? Does it really detract from
readability? That, to me, seems to be the real reason for complying with
mechanical rules--to keep our promise with English-language users, to
maintain the conventions of our writing system. I agree with Gary
Merrill--it does, at the least, degrade the reader's experience. At the
most, the reader will stop reading entirely to note that the writer has
broken his promise. Such departures from the text are inimical to the
writer's purpose.


Brad Connatser
Concurrent Communications
concom -at- usit -dot- net

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