Friday, September 12, 2008

English as she is goodly writen


Perhaps it's because I teach English and have had a lifetime's fill of grammatical and constructional monstrosities. Or perhaps I'm just plain finicky and nitpicky but I detest people who cannot write correct English. Now speaking is a different matter altogether. Not being a native speaker myself, I fumble and trip over the spoken form all the time. Especially in the absence of daily conversational practice targets. But writing, ah, now that's something we've all had plenty of practice of most of our schoolgoing lives so it irks me no end when people keep doling it out in brokenly cringeworthy fashion.

Needless to say, I adore people who effortlessly and seamlessly write well in English. Of course some people are naturally born with the proverbial silver spoon at the tip of their fingers. They just naturally write well. And without fudging the issue, I know I write well. It's something I enjoy and have slowly got better at as I get older. But the people who unfailingly hit me for a sixer and make me fall madly in love with them are those who mix and manage standard English, formal and informal, and most importantly, colloquialisms with equal dexterity. I think the truest measure of a person's complete grasp of a language is his or her ability to use colloquial expressions with ease. When someone cruises along in formal English but completely misses out on a contemporary idiomatic expression, doh, that just doesn't cut it in my book. It's almost as criminal as the classic "Wanna make franship?" come on. Sic.

The funniest thing is native English speakers themselves are notoriously bad at writing in English. Case in point, all the people you see online, especially in chatrooms, who can't spell, punctuate or formulate their thoughts to save their nuts. Americans are an especially atrocious lot. It makes you wonder what standards grammar teachers keep in the US of A. Sure, originality of thought and self-expression and all that is important but surely not at the expense of making you look like a human grammatical error.

I imagine part of the problem is in the verbal having to be put down in writing. Oral expression is free and informal while writing is cluttered with rules and trip-you-ups. Details of grammar like spelling and punctuation obviously don't matter a dimsum in speaking and there's a lot more stress placed on immediacy of communication than in writing. All of which adds up to the verbal form being so vastly different from the written that fluent speakers flub right, left and centre in just about every aspect of writing.

Indians are reputed to be among the world's best writers of English and I'd have to agree. To some extent. What's definitely an oh no factor for me is the over-formal, pedantic, stilted writing style many swear by. Or maybe it's the only style they know. It just gets me a little claustrophobic after a while. Makes me itch to rip off the suit and neckwear and stuffy shoes and push them headfirst into the linguistic pool.

But then again, like I said, maybe I'm just an over-finicky, nitpicking English teacher.


26 comments:

  1. My God! Ni Ni, you are really good in "ze Inglis"....so good that as i was reading it i could not even understand what i was reading !! mawl muk min ti kher suh aw...you are too good to be true!an tia mi khah?

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  2. Aw my ni ni, saum emo min tia law? Mawlmuk lo e, i sukuk ka ti! Lubdawp kha lom lo en roh ka tih che. Mak thei eee!!

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  3. Z, you leave me astounded!

    A duvet of thick cloud has always shrouded your persona. Not having really known you in school, the light that silhouetted your personality, brought about by exchange over the net and over the miles and years, was at best sepulchral. Now without frill or frippery you are slowly lifting that duvet. Hallelujah!!

    Surely you do not really mean to detest someone solely on the basis of his or her command over written English. One detests someone, perhaps a low brow politician, for a festival of corruption, criminality and incompetence that such politicians usually represent. Or perhaps execration can be heaped upon a high brow intellectual who refuses to be confined within the boundaries of a consistent principle. But surely someone whose only fault is his inability to communicate perfectly should not be the object of your odium. You could be more prodigal with your forgiveness!

    My feeling is that a vibrant language evolves continuously and should we try to block its progress we do so at our own peril. And perhaps at the peril of the very language that we love. The French tried it and have been a phenomenal failure. Those chat rooms are Petri dishes in an incubator of tomorrows English language. Having said that and being an ardent follower and admirer of PG Wodehouse, that great wordsmith the English language, the output of chatrooms makes me revolve quickly and repeatedly around one's own axis. I positively reel at the language that comes out of those keyboards!

    Yes, I too am torn. Yes I too am steering between the Scylla of linguistic progress and the Charybdis of purity. However, perhaps because I have a thicker skin than you because as a business person I have to have that, I reluctantly accept the linguistic end product of those chatrooms. They probably contain the new DNA of what our language will be in the days to come.

    As much as I like to stay in the glorious past it is best to remember "tempora mutantur nos et mutamur in illis".

    After reading what I have written, I wonder if you will detest me or adore me!!

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  4. can't blame you for being a bit finicky, gues you're supposed to be, being an english teacher.for whatever reason, i too love english at least as much as i do mizo and don't have much patience with ppl who murder the languages i know. and it's true natives aren't much better when it comes to writing (even speaking) their own mothertongue, eg.Pygmalion. but it seems we're all getting worse and worse at spelling due to growing rampancy of sms.

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  5. Yes, as non-native speakers we are forgiven (I like to tell myself) for a few stumbles and fumbles here and there while speaking, but I agree we should all take great care while writing the language. And the reason, experts say, why we make such atrocious grammatical mistakes is because while writing or speaking in English we think in our mother tongue and literally translate that out into English, the result of which is of course frightfully funny and grossly incorrect.

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  6. Bullseye, ambs. Mother tongue interference is what it's called and it's definitely what gives us poor school marms ulcers and shoots our BP skyhigh!

    mesjay, you were a teacher once too so I guess those instincts I'm talking about haven't left you either. Yes, the popularity of sms and internet lingo is definitely a cause for concern. Good point. Don't you just hate it when you get garbled sms-es with all the vowels missing? Arghhh.

    Lochan, if you hadn't sent that email about your reply here being strictly tongue-in-cheek, I'd have cheerfully strangled you! Unfortunately we're not all dapper business tycoons like you trotting all across the globe, clinching multi-million rupee deals and stuff, and we actually have to sit and wade through mountains of papers studded with gems like the ones in these earlier posts http://calliopes-canticles.blogspot.com/2007/07/compilation-of-howlers-that-colleague.html and http://calliopes-canticles.blogspot.com/2007/10/literary-definition-howlers-metaphor-it.html. Hey, I'm surprised at myself for only detesting these nuts and not actually killing them and hanging them by their Gothic-influenced black nailpolished fingernails!

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  7. oh, eh
    :p ka in hre chhuak uarh mai, hehe, ka thiamloh zia ka chiang.

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  8. I fully agree with Lochan that 'a vibrant language evolves continuously and should we try to block its progress we do so at our own peril' and in that spirit do not really mind the absence of vowels, etc. in smses and chatrooms - as long as they are grammatically correct, to an extent. I also hate typical Indian officialese which, as you so rightly put it, is an 'over-formal, pedantic, stilted writing style' - especially the phrase 'it may be recalled that....' which, I must admit at the same time, is quite a useful phrase when writing an official note. But when I see it in news reports (a favourite phrase of the Manipuri/Meitei English websites) I go "aaaargh'.
    These are just a few of the reasons that I keep coming back to good blogs in English such as yours, daydreambeliever,zozem, illusionnaire..... for the content and the English. :)

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  9. Z, tongue in cheek of course! Only when it refers to you castigating people for errors in written English. I guess as a teacher of English language you cannot be as prodigal as I would like you to be! Naturaly, high standards must be maintained. Even I am a bit fastidious when it comes to spelling and grammar.

    "If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well; if something is worth doing well it is worth doing perfectly". That is what Miss Hawke that supreme teacher of English (language and literature) inculcated in us at MH. Unfortunately you never got to know her. So taking that to the extreme and possibly illogical conclusion, even while texting (notice I did not say SMS!!!) I try to avoid all abbreviations! Silly, stupid and senile me.

    Hey Ruolngulworld thanks for the vote of confidence. Take that Calliopia! Perhaps like they did with philosophy during The Hundred Schools of Thought in the Spring And Autumn period of China (ca.722 BC and 481 BC), we need to allow various streams of language construction to flourish. Just to enrich it.

    Ah! Now I await your hand around my neck.

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  10. Vana, haha ka'n in hrik thla vel nih hi :P

    Plats & Loch, I don't think I ever mentioned anything along the lines of not allowing language to evolve naturally. That was just Lochan shooting his gob off on a tangent trying to play agent provocateur. As an English teacher, believe me when I say that I know probably a lot more about the evolution of language than you two!

    Plats, you seem to be contradicting yourself by claiming that you don't mind scrappy language and then saying you visit only these blogs when there are a few other English-based Mizo blogs around! Btw, do visit aduhi's too. She writes impeccably well too.

    Loch, do me a favour. Get a cricket bat and hit yourself on the head with it ten times for me!

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  11. Mizo tawng in ka lo koment mai ang.. nakin ah I sap tawng a dik lo lo ti leh palh ang.. :D

    "There was a sale at the Mall, and I ended up buying dress at cheap price"---Sap tawng dik ani em le? :D


    British English ah hian a dik..but in American .. the above line is Damn funny..


    Eng sap tawng nge ka hman dawn le?

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  12. Haha mnowluck, i dawihzep ltkkk. Tinge dress te i lo lei ve ngot a? If it's for me, I don't want a cheap one and if it's for you ka kawm toh don lo che. Dress te lo hak ve reng² :D

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  13. hehe J - misspellings and bad punctuations does it for me! They make my hands itch! So I know how these things can get to you, but I break too many rules myself to have the gall to crib too much about bad English. But you, lady, can take the liberty to do so. Mizo tawng takin, English in spin kual vel hi chu a impressive thei khawp mai :)

    And speaking of Americans, and other first language speakers, have you noticed how almost 80% of them always write the "would have/could have" tense as "could of, would of" while seemingly saying it right???!!

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  14. Saptawng nal taka an dak zat zat theih chuan kan sap ngaihsan na rilru nen, thiam ta riau a impression neih hi a awl khawp mai..te ka han ti hnu hnawh a nih hi

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  15. Wowee thanks Jerusha, that's a huge compliment coming from someone whose writing skills I've always admired. You, Cherrie, amber and dear diary are definitely the best. Yep, I've often noticed the could of stuff too :D I think they probably get it from the 've sound of would've, could've. So downmarket tiro?

    sheng, Rocky nimaw? Tawng nal nazawng hi ziah an thiam lo ti lang chiang deuh chu kan Ralleng unau te hi nia. Dak lamah chuan an dek nal thei raps. Ziah lamah chuan an bei buh ve em em tho!

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  16. I completely agree with you - you write with such ease and fluidity, and are much admired in these quarters :) So why waste that talent when you could knock all our socks off at the Seminar we're organising?! In other words, get cracking, girl!

    Being in the literature field myself, I know exactly what you mean when you talk of those challenges!Frustrating, aren't they?
    Simplicity is something that I usually recommend to students who tend to write long, complex, and garbled sentences. As you said, speaking is a completely different cup of tea; I often find myself stumbling over words and stammering in a most embarrassing way. Ditto for my mother tongue too. But what I do not like is those false American accents that seem to be so popular these days.While globalization has ensured that we register different speech patterns and accents, why PUT ON a fake one? And here in India, people more easily get away with Fake Brit accents, if they need to fake it at all. I mean after all, most of us grew up in schools where we were taught to emulate Brit speech. Call-centre prodigies who didn't stick around long enough to master all the little nuances, cadences and whatnots just trip up eventually, and that's majorly embarrassing. Case in point: I finally got around to tuning on AIR FM. The less said, the better.

    Another pet peeve:When making self-introductions, why do our vai friends always start with the words, "MYSELF, S.Somnath etc..." It just irritates me no end. Of course, I'm just nit-picking too, hehe.

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  17. A quick addition to my earlier statement. I love mesjay of the always elegantly faultless diction too.

    LOL ddb, I think I know where your outburst against fake Yankee accents comes from. The FM girls with their sooo put-on accents huh? :P And no no no no, I don't do seminars and I don't want to knock anybody's socks off!

    Another hilarious vai ho self-intro line "My good name is...." :D

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  18. Lol, Calliopia, i *love* rants like this one, and in impeccable English, to boot. 'Americans are an especially atrocious lot'- remember the profusion of confusion on the web re 'lose' and 'loose'? Well, blame it on 'em! In fact, blame everything on them!!

    As long as you keep coming up with lines like 'don't matter a dimsum '- that's a gem of a phrase and wins the Lolly of the Day - i'll be coming back for more.

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  19. LMWAO (w for wrinkled btw ;)) mona. I'm personally really proud of the "human grammatical error". Sure shot for Cherry-on-top of the Day, don't you think? :P

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  20. Hemi chungchanga comment pe ve tur hian "tling lo" ka inti ngawih2 :)

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  21. kei pawh samuela pa ai nasa hian:)

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  22. here you go,
    my spankin' new blog.

    i myself anne
    tee hee.

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  23. oya poiples. me realise well well dat wot me goan say cud get me fried, dried an hell ya, even brayed at. but lissen.

    is not it da 'mangling' dat mak da lingo new? is not it da 'mangling' dat mak da lingo fun? is not it why englees live, and latin die? dat hindi live and sanskrit die?

    bugger da rules, we say, roll up its pants and wash it down da stream. thro even a bar o rin after it. dey can play catch-catch.

    let language, warts, pimples and smelly armpits, be of the poiples. for the poiples. foreva and foreva yeh. amen.

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  24. Very droll, feddabonn. Or what I could make out of it. Had that been an exam paper, I'd have made sure you were flunked and detained for at least 10 straight years until the nursery class caught up with you! :D

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