The other day I was sharing a regret with a friend about Twitter’s general lack of interest in basic English grammar, or disdain for it even. The submental abbreviations (“ur” instead of “your“…stupid shit like that) have a way of migrating into everyday writing and speech even. Languages have always been movable feasts, of course. Constantly evolving, adapting, augmenting. But I draw the line at “ur.”
All most writers understand that disciplined, well-honed grammar is a beautiful thing. Diligent and respectful submission to (or the artful manipulation of) the English language (or whatever your native tongue may be) is a matter of character, pride and creativity. On the other hand you don’t want to sound like you never paid attention in school.
Over the last few years there’s been a college campus movement to resist this viewpoint and generally go easy on correct English grammar. The idea has been to allow students of whatever ethnic background to write and speak according to their native cultures and infliuences (Ebonics, slang, street grammar) rather than conform to grammatical white-man standards. The idea is that grading and good grammar are tools of white supremacy.
Consider a possibly accurate College Fix article, dated 7.20.20 and written by Alex Frank of Texas Christian University, titled “Rutgers English Department to deemphasize traditional grammar ‘in solidarity with Black Lives Matter’“.
According to Frank, this initiative was spelled out by Rebecca Walkowitz, the English Department chair at Rutgers University, and sent to faculty, staff and students in an email. A copy was allegedly sent to Frank.
This morning I sent a copy of Frank’s article to Walkowitz and asked if it was accurate or not. I’m currently giving Frank the benefit of the doubt. If Walkowitz writes back and says his reporting is biased or inaccurate I’ll fix this post accordingly.
[7.24 update: Walkowitz never responded.]
Titled “Department actions in solidarity with Black Lives Matter,” Walkowitz’s email allegedly states that “the ongoing and future initiatives that the English Department has planned are a ‘way to contribute to the eradication of systemic inequities facing black, indigenous, and people of color.’
“One of the initiatives is described as ‘incorporating ‘critical grammar’ into our pedagogy.
The email allegedly states that “this approach challenges the familiar dogma that writing instruction should limit emphasis on grammar/sentence-level issues so as to not put students from multilingual, non-standard ‘academic’ English backgrounds at a disadvantage.”
It also reportedly “encourages students to develop a critical awareness of the variety of choices available to them w/ regard to micro-level issues in order to empower them and equip them to push against biases based on ‘written’ accents.”
Boiled down (and please correct me if I’m wrong), Walkowitz is more or less telling faculty, staff and students (and I’m passing this along in a satirical, loose-shoe sense) that using “ur” instead of “your” is cool. And all the other abbreviations. Oh, and tell those stuffy white grammar fascists to take a hike.
The Polish-born novelist Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness, Youth, Nostromo, Outcast of the Islands) didn’t speak English until his 20s, but he gradually became one of the greatest English-language novelists of all time. His prose was impeccable, and I am telling you that Joseph Conrad is quite literally rolling in his grave right now.