So, I was reading my Introduction to Language textbook this morning… because I do that. I obviously didn’t realize how much I was going to love Campbell’s English Language class when I started the class, or how much it was going to continue to affect my life. I, also, 100% didn’t think I’d ever honestly pick up a textbook to read again, especially on a day off of work. Anyway, I was reading the first chapter that doesn’t dive into the fun stuff immediately. Still, everything was interesting when talking about what language is and what grammar means. There’s a section on prescriptive grammar, which in a simple way is people telling you “the right way to speak” or, in a more critical way, “the rich way to speak.” I came across this absolute GEM of information that blew my mind, and I wanted to share it with everyone I know.
And I quote: “In 1762 Bishop Robert Lowth wrote A Short Introduction to English Grammar with Critical Notes. Lowth prescribed new rules for English, many of them influenced by HIS PERSONAL TASTE.” Double negatives. Me/she/he/they should follow than. Were following you even though were is plural and you is singular. Basically very grammatical fight you’ve been in ever is because some guy in the 1700s thought it sounded better to speak his way, and then wrote a book telling people that if they wanted their kids to sound rich and educated, they should learn to speak like him.
While the feminist in me is enraged, the linguist in me loves this. The argument over whether or not to end sentences with prepositions is essentially due to people in the 17th and 18th centuries trying to make English function more like Latin. People get super angry about these facets of grammar. Pot shots about intelligence are made. In reality, English has really just been one huge adventure in trying to best let each other know our thoughts.
That’s what the first chapter really has taught me. We put a lot of effort into language and communication, and language and communication are a big reason why people are different from animals. We can creative tell each other our thoughts opinions and ideas. We can question each other and command each other. It’s beautiful and interesting and why do I do anything else with my day that doesn’t involve thinking about language and grammar?