a new attitude

Trudging steadily through the syllabus and first pages of reading for my news editing class, I find myself, a former linguistics student, wanting to protest some rules of grammar. (Okay, many rules of grammar.) Linguists, in general, are descriptivists of language rather than prescriptivists of grammar rules. They say that communication is the key and that users of a language set its rules.

Last year, as a grad student in linguistics, I would have said that "ur" and "ain't" and "stanch" when I mean "staunch" are fine, because my reader/listener knows what I mean; communication is not inhibited.

This year, as a grad student in journalism, my job is to squelch the apostropheless possessives, add the missing double letter, and leave a trail of red ink everywhere on otherwise understandable text.

In a way, going through and forcing everything to conform to a set of rules is something I can do with zeal and excitement. After all, the rules tie into a fundamental understanding of how words work and what they mean. I can see how respecting the rules is something you can only do when you fully grasp the intricacies of language, and I have a love affair with the intricacies of language. And even though I can understand "thx u 2 gtg," it is definitely more jarring to an already hard-to-engage reader than having an expected order and form for text. Predictability renders the structure invisible, allowing a reader to focus on meaning.

So I am adopting a new attitude. I will always be a linguist at heart. But now I am a journalist too. And I have my red pen ready.