Posts tagged ‘Language’

homophones
 

By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull. Photo by Barb Knoff.


Elizabeth
Anne Hull

An important shibboleth of literacy when I was much younger was whether people could properly use, spell, and punctuate the common words to, two, and too. Likewise there, their and they’re, and it’s and its, and dozens of other often confused sets of words.

While a colleague and I were judging advanced-placement credit writing samples, she commented on how damaging spelling mistakes could be to the success of a short piece of writing, the kind on which we were making decisions of whether a student received credit and passed or faced the frustration of failure.

I’m very lucky that spelling always came very easily to me as a child, but I soon realized that it’s not the most important part of writing. That is, it’s necessary but not sufficient to achieve success.

A casual reader of a correctly spelled essay written in standard English grammar with conventional punctuation rarely notices its mechanical perfection. It’s the flaws that grab attention. We notice mistakes even more when we’re looking for a reason to reject what a writer is trying to say — when we dislike or don’t believe the point being made.

There are other ways to go wrong, of course, but to write effectively, you need to do a great many things right. Why distract your reader from your point with needless stumbling blocks to communication? Not everyone will agree with your point, even if you do such things perfectly and reason clearly and provide supporting evidence, but why make it harder to understand what that point is?

Yet I doubt that there’s a foolproof rule that governs the grammar of English that doesn’t have an exception. Wouldn’t people be better off if we could understand what our opponents really meant, in spite of the lame way they said it?

I was making elevator conversation with a stranger the other day on the to, too, two confusion, and my fellow person-on-the-way-to the-fourth-floor mentioned that the debate brought up tutus in her mind, because she taught ballet. Context matters.

How do we ever expect mere human beings to understand one another well enough to reach solutions to the problems facing our nation and our planet, such as how to solve the health-care situation in the U.S. or what can we do to mitigate the damage scientists predict global warming will produce?

The History of Engiish in 10 Minutes by the Open University

By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull. Photo by Barb Knoff.


Elizabeth
Anne Hull

I love the English language, one of the truly great ones in the world. It’s not spoken by as many people as Mandarin Chinese or Spanish, but more students worldwide are learning English as a foreign language than any other language today.

English is the language of aviation and most scientific papers as well as a lot of business purposes. Europe loves English too, as a lingua franca that puts all those for whom it is their second language on an even playing field. It is rich with great literature — drama, poetry, fiction, and essays.

I love words: vulgar ones (you know one when you see or hear it), precise ones (and especially just the right word for the moment, whether it comforts or disturbs your audience), vague ones, especially those used to create the atmosphere and tone of fiction (misty, dour, wretched, jolly), short ones that sound Anglo-Saxon whether they are or not, and long ones (that make a person stumble trying to pronounce them and usually feel a little bit Latinate, linking the languages of the Indo-European family). It’s a tool for communicating, and for obscuring meaning as well.

Language in general is what separates Homo sapiens from other species with whom we share Planet Earth, isn’t it?