Response to “Speak out against policing our language”

It may be that some folks use linguistic style, vocabulary and idioms to decide who is a “quality” person and who is an outsider. We’ve known that for hundreds of years. 
But in the United States, people have long been unintimidated by arbitrary conventions of “educated” writing and speaking. 
 
 
Our revolutionary and frontier sauciness has thumbed its nose at the pompous and privileged folks, giving us instead writers and poets like Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, E.E. Cummings and Jack Kerouac. They all broke literary conventions, but they wrote well, and their meanings were clear.
 
 
But it’s silly to say that we should shun “prescriptive” teaching about how to write and speak clearly. Language is a shared currency with share conventions that we have to learn. Language “rules” enable us to understand each other with precision and clarity. 
 
 
It’s true that language is not fixed. Languages evolve. But when the use of words and grammar gets slovenly, the meanings in speech blur. Ideas are lost. Clear thought fades to twilight, and we grope where we no longer see the points that should describe the world.
 
 
This is why we teach (or used to teach) students to write and speak clearly in the standard forms of their language. Not everyone knows the words and beliefs that pass for meanings in your household, your local dialect or in the shorthand slang of your trade. Know your work slang where you need it. But know also how to choose clear and unambiguous forms of speech sufficient to make your meanings clear to outsiders and the public.
 
 
And put some value on the stability of words and grammatical forms. This allows you the pleasure and knowledge of reading what earlier people wrote and thought without needing to have it filtered and bungled through translations. It ensures your own successors will have some sense of what you thought, felt and wanted (if you take the trouble to keep some record of your thoughts). 
 
 
If language is sloppy and illogical, you will be led by politicians who have put hooks in your nose because you thought they meant something different from their slippery words. It’s better to teach yourself and your children to be prescriptive about language. The alternative is to think clumsily and to be deceived.
 
 
Paul Farseth
Minnesota Daily reader