Grammar matters - if u want 2 b loved

21st June 2013 at 01:00
If your students loathe lessons about syntax and spelling, explain how 'bad' language can be a romantic turn-off

Grammar can arouse heated debate - even among adults who are well-acquainted with its intricate rules. But students may be intrigued to learn it can also be a turn-off.

"Abuse" of the English language has the power to sabotage friendships and even romantic relationships, according to dating website OkCupid. The site looked at 500,000 first contacts between its users and concluded that "netspeak, bad grammar and poor spelling are huge turn-offs" when creating a first impression and developing an online relationship.

Some of the biggest passion killers were "ur", "u", "wat" and "wont", the website concluded. Online suitors also loathed "luv" and "realy". Yet they liked the correct use of apostrophes - something that is often the first thing to be abandoned in text-speak.

"Our negative correlation list is a fool's lexicon," said Christian Rudder, co-founder of OkCupid. "These all make a terrible first impression. In fact ... the worst six words you can use in a first message are all stupid slang."

Men, he added, were most likely to use clumsy or offensive language, such as misguided physical compliments.

Grammar is a linguistic minefield. For some it provides clarity and shows finesse but others regard it as the domain of pedants. How do your students feel? How important is language to them? And when would they choose to use it more formally?

When the BBC reported this story on its website it noted that the 17th-century poet John Dryden is said to have popularised the idea that you cannot end a sentence with a preposition. Centuries later, Winston Churchill, evidently amused by the debate, is said to have commented, "This is something up with which I will not put."

Meanwhile John McWhorter, a linguist at Columbia University in the US, says that "moral panic" over grammar, which in ancient times was twinned with philosophy as a discipline, has been around since at least AD63.

Of course, there is a serious point to grammar. "The writer who neglects punctuation or mispunctuates, is liable to be misunderstood ... for the want of merely a comma, it often occurs that an axiom appears a paradox, or that a sarcasm is converted into a sermonoid," Edgar Allen Poe wrote.

Arguments about the correct use of grammar are unlikely to go away and students are unlikely to abandon text-speak on their mobile phones. But they may take more interest in the correct use of language if it helps them to write a persuasive Valentine's Day card.

CLASS QUESTIONS

- How does the grammar used by Shakespeare or Chaucer differ from today's? (You could also compare obsolete vocabulary and slang with modern words.)

- Is there any point to apostrophes? Do we need them or are they just a nuisance?

- Should native English speakers be taught grammar in more detail, as speakers of other languages are?

- How many words can you remove from a sentence before it becomes incomprehensible?

- What is the literary value of a more refined or complicated sentence structure?

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