Re: Grammar Books

Subject: Re: Grammar Books
From: Donald Le Vie <dlevie -at- VLINE -dot- NET>
Date: Fri, 2 Jul 1999 11:56:15 -0500

I humbly submit that there are two underlying reasons for so much "emotion"
(I prefer passion) about grammar and the English language. One is because we
as technical communicators are constantly defending our value-add to a
universe populated with people who think in zeros and ones. Grant me the
freedom to say that, in my experience, I've had to edit and rewrite user
documentation authored by SMEs who couldn't write a ransom note if their
life depended on it. I've worked in companies whose technical professionals
scoffed at the idea of using a style guide to write product specifications
that would later become user manuals. I've worked in companies whose
technical experts earned more than twice what I earned but yet had as much
command of the written word as an Aborigine (with apologies to all
Aborigines). I've worked in companies who had web developers, software
developers, information developers, organization developers, systems
developers...but the head technical honcho referred to everyone as being in
one of two worlds: "technical" and "nontechnical." I think we've all worked
in places like these, where if you weren't a programmer/engineer/developer,
you were just hand lotion.

Technical communicators must also fight the tendency to become "language
snobs" for these same reasons. This further alienates us from the people we
need to work with. I've fallen victim to it and it took me a long time to
rebuild some bridges at one company; I also fight it every day. ("Hello, my
name is Donn and I'm a language snob..."). Maybe there's a 12-step program
out there....

Here' s the second reason: Technical communicators fall into one of many
camps: descriptivists, purists, etc. The English language evolves constantly
(it's official: you CAN end your sentences with a preposition). We
incorporate new words in our documentation on a frequent basis, without
waiting for the next version of Webster's Dictionary to be published to give
us "permission" to do so. There are many constructs of the English language
that are fixed and rigid, and no doubt rightfully so; but the flexibility of
the language allows us to define our frames of reference and context for our
particular industry, field, company, division, or department. You agree on
or adopt a set of guidelines (for those who don't like "rules") that have
particular application to your specific requirements (that's why they're
called style "guides"), but the set of guidelines you adopt should be
grounded in the unshakable foundations of proper English grammar; otherwise,
you end up with something equally as ridiculous as "ebonics." I don't
consider that language "better suited to its task." It encourages a lowering
of standards instead of challenging people to excel. You can also go the
other way with language that overflows with rhetorical obfuscation and
exudes circumlocution. Either way, you end up with a communication style
that impresses the few and alienates the masses.

The English language is colorful, expressive, and maleable, but when you're
done bending it, twisting it, and tying it in knots, it still should return
to its original shape. I think it was either Einstein or Buckminster Fuller
who said that the mark of an intelligent society is not how quickly it
solves advanced mathematical problems, but in its use of language.


Donn Le Vie
Information Development Director
Integrated Concepts, Inc.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Higgins, Lisa [SMTP:LHiggins -at- CARRIERACCESS -dot- COM]
> Sent: Friday, July 02, 1999 11:00 AM
> To: TECHWR-L -at- LISTSERV -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU
> Subject: Re: Grammar Books
> I honestly don't understand why this is such an emotional issue. Every
> time
> it comes up, people get attacked personally. That's inappropriate and
> uncalled for.
> There's a big misunderstanding in these arguments around the use of the
> word
> 'grammar.' Language is not language without grammar. The real issue is
> that
> of usage. Grammar is internal to language, and usage is external. Everyone
> knows grammar. Different people employ different usages, and the argument
> here is over Standard American English usage and its value.
> I am a descriptivist. I do, however, see some value to certain conventions
> of SAE. What I _don't_ get is the wholesale acceptance of every specious
> standard that comes along. I think that we, as writers, should be
> professionals. If we can't write like it's second nature, if we don't have
> the common sense to use simple logic rather than a bunch of arbitrary
> rules
> in our work, frankly, I don't think we do have much value as writers. We
> all
> know if we have an ambiguous sentence, right? What difference does it make
> if the culprit is a dangling modifier or something else? You don't need
> rules to do this stuff. You need common sense and a strong intuitive feel
> for the logical structure of language.
> We go back and forth on this all the time, but I have yet to see a
> coherent
> explanation of the value of some of the silly rules English teachers cling
> to so jealously. Why exactly is it not OK to split an infinitive? Why
> can't
> I end a sentence in a preposition? Our business is to communicate clearly
> and effectively. It is absolutely not to 'defend' our language from those
> who rightfully own it. Language evolves and changes and becomes better
> suited to its task in the process. We should be really happy about that.
> Lisa.
> > [Lots of irrelevant flames deleted.]
> From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=
> =

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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