Woo-hoo! Next Tuesday is National Grammar Day! Ha! And you thought the big news was the Ohio and Texas primaries. Nope. Tuesday will be all about making sure everyone writes and speaks right.
You’ll find some details and commentary at Language Log–a blog written by people who actually know something about language. This gets it about right:
The first is the assumption that non-standard variants are unclear and therefore impede communication. This proposition is mostly just taken for granted, without any kind of defense — in what way is “between you and I” less clear than “between you and me”? in what way is “all shook up” less clear than “all shaken up”? they’re non-standard, certainly, but LESS CLEAR? — and the occasional explanations of how particular non-standard usages are unclear don’t survive scrutiny. Instead, it’s just an article of faith that non-standard variants (and conversational, informal, and innovative variants, and variants restricted to certain geographic regions or social groups) are unclear, vague, sloppy, or lazy; the written, formal, established, generally used standard variants are taken to be intrinsically superior, and everything that deviates from them to be intrinsically debased to some degree. I have yet to see actual arguments in favor of this idea, and it has always struck me as deeply mean-spirited. After all, you can point out that some variant is standard (generally used by the educated middle class) and an alternative non-standard without demonizing the non-standard variant.
The point Arnold Zwicky is making here is particularly important from a rhetorical perspective. False claims of impeding communication work to silence dissent from groups that speak/write in so-called “non-standard” forms. The “mistakes” allow critics to ignore substance–whew!–and diss a message on style (thus implying the speaker is stuuuupid). How convenient!
(When I write about such things, someone usually responds with: So you teach journalism students it’s OK to make mistakes? Nooooooo. I teach them a professional discourse that is neither correct nor incorrect. It is simply the way one should write if one wishes to practice journalism and get paid for it. Oh, and I teach them never to look down on those who write and speak differently.)
So Rhetorica formally declares next Tuesday as National Talk, Like, What-Evrrr Day. Get out there and deliver your messages to the world fearing not in the scorn of those desiccated souls who would police your language at the expense of your thoughts.
Man, I wanna dig your rap.