RRR#9: Please Just Chill, or “Adam Daughton, Stop Playing Rap Music on my Porch”

I may often gripe about the lack of standards in the English language for the benefit of the Shield‘s reading public, or similarly resent whatever standards actually exist, but, in reality, I don’t care, and neither should you.

What is the purpose of a language? This is a question as useless as it is profound, and I have no intent to answer it. For my purposes, language exists as a medium for whatever necessitates it. If I am trying to communicate to you that my watch is broken and I don’t know the time, then I will simply use language for its utility. However, if I am making an intricate argument, such as one that might be made in a speech or a thesis paper, I will need to use language in a very specific way, so that I may precisely outline the premises and conclusion of my argument. If I write a poem, I probably will use language predominantly as a medium by which to demonstrate my eloquence or to convey some complex feeling, depending on what kind of poem I’m writing. The demonstration of one’s linguistic prowess works via the peripheral method of persuasion to convince people that the speaker is correct because he or she is “intelligent” and “conscientious,” rather than convincing people that the speaker is correct because he or she makes sound arguments with true premises. Despite my bitter attitude regarding this, I must acknowledge that it is an efficacious element of communication. This is a problem, since the reception of an argument is determined not entirely by the argument itself, but somewhat by the way it is conveyed. The logical fallacy of confusing the reliability of the argument-maker with the rectitude of the argument obscures reasonable thinking.

There is no issue with changing the style with which one writes or speaks to best suit one’s communicative purposes, but the notion that it is impossible to successfully use language for a purpose while not stylistically complying with said purpose’s “necessary rules” is disturbing. Why do we have grammar rules? We have grammar rules because they, in a way, standardize communication so that people may easily understand it. We also have grammar rules because “that’s how you are supposed to do it.” I struggle to reconcile the notion that there is a definite correct way to use language with the notion that language can be used differently depending on the purpose of the speaker or writer. I would rather play with the rules of language in order to effectively convey a point that I might struggle to make when restricted by a ruleset.

Contrarily, unintentional deviation from stylistic standards and grammar rules should not be harmful to the validity of a work unless such deviation objectively impedes the work from fulfilling its purpose. By this, I mean that if “bad grammar” obscures the meaning of the work due to incomprehensibility, or if overly casual language makes it difficult to understand an argument, then that is arguably an issue, but this is often not the case, yet we hold people to high levels of scrutiny, mistaking grammar skills for intelligence, when this is obviously not a wise judgment to make.