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The death of grammar and punctuation?


The Big Idea

Big ideas are what successful business is all about. Each week, Alexandra Cain takes a look at anything and everything to help your business shoot the lights out.

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We can halve the dictionary with Manglish.

We can halve the dictionary with Manglish.

We talk about words a lot in this area of the paper. We’ve written about mispronunciation, strange neologisms, pet peeves and more. In fact, few topics incite the readership more than an article on poor grammar.

But I’ve come to the conclusion we should stop whingeing and accept the fact proper language is dying. Rather than try to uphold archaic rules about the way we use words, perhaps we should accept our fate and embrace poor use of language?

I’d also have my way with numbers. 

What I propose is that we create a new institution dedicated to enacting new language rules. After all it worked for the Italians, who cleaned up their language early last century. So why wouldn’t it work for us?

I propose the new language this institution administers be called Manglish. The first agenda item would be there/their/they’re. A large proportion of the population have no idea how to use these words properly, so I say we scrap their and they’re and just use there for all three.

The obvious place to go from there is no more you’re and your. We only need your. Next cab off the rank has to be to and too. Again, why bother with too? We should live in a world where too no longer exists.

The next rule of Manglish is no more it’s. Its will suffice in its place. In fact, how about we do away with apostrophes altogether? Do we need punctuation at all?

While we’re making changes to grammar, let’s forget about the split infinitive rule and allow all prepositions at the end of sentences. Which brings me to homonyms. For instance, principle/principal, complement/compliment. Just pick one and be done with it. This would forever eliminate the affect/effect problem.

How about words that could be two words as well as one word (altogether/all together, away/a way). Why use two words when one will do?

I’d also have my way with numbers. Most don’t understand numbers one to nine should be written not expressed in numerals. So let’s make all numbers numerals.

Now for text language. It’s clear we’re headed for a world in which love is spelt luv, tomorrow becomes tomoz and what is wot. Why delay the inevitable? Let’s just accept our fate and start using these words now.

I put this idea to Associate Professor Louise Ravelli from the University of New South Wales’ School of the Arts and Media. She says grammar and punctuation are always evolving because language is not static and change is not necessarily bad.

“But I don’t think grammar and punctuation will disappear because if you take spoken language and write it down, you have to have some punctuation so it makes sense,” says Ravelli.

She points to early Greek to make her point. “There were no spaces between the words and no punctuation marks, which made it really hard to read. So grammar and punctuation serve an important purpose,” she says.

Ravelli says there have always been different levels of understanding about how language should be used. But she says what’s changed recently is that anyone can be a publisher thanks to new media and the internet. This means much of what we read online doesn’t go through the editing and subediting processes written material would have undergone in the past.

In terms of the changes she is witnessing in the language at the moment, Ravelli says appreciation of how apostrophes should be used – for instance an understanding that it’s is a contraction of it is – is declining.

“Language is about having a way to communicate that suits your purpose and people will find a way to express themselves, regardless of whether they are technically correct. Communication is about being functional. If someone can’t make themselves understood they will work at it until they are understood,” she says.

When it comes to their/they’re/there, Ravelli says she thinks some misuse is accepted in some contexts, despite the clear distinction in the meaning of these words.

“Language suits many different contexts and we adjust our language for different purposes. For instance, when we send text messages to friends we may not worry about the finer points of language because they will understand us anyway.”

As to whether we might be able to clean up English by removing inconsistencies and irregularities, Ravelli says this would be tough.

“Attempts to impose rules from above are usually spectacularly unsuccessful because of the many different contexts that apply to the way we use language. Formalised attempts to impose standards on language don’t work because it evolves through convention.”

So will we talk in text speak in the future? Ravelli points out that even the way we use text language has evolved. Ten years ago we sent them without having access to a Qwerty keyboard, instead punching a number several times until we got to the letter we wanted. So it’s likely text language will continue to evolve in the future.

She says the short cuts with which we are now familiar thanks to how frequently we text and the speed of texting have influenced her own use of language. “When I send an informal email I find myself using abbreviations. But the text message form of communication won’t suit every purpose. No one language standard can cover all situations,” she says.

Ultimately, language is multifaceted, complex and situation-dependent. Although the pedants may disagree, maybe we should accept there’s no right or wrong way to use language, and lighten up on those who we think don’t use language correctly.

Over to you comment community...



  • We do not have to accept "wot", "luv", etc. because youths and those who can't let go of their youth write like that.

    What you are saying is that we should accept a lower level of knowledge and be done with it. If you take that approach, we should just accept that:

    1. Cyclists should pay registration and ride on footpaths;
    2. Mothers should breast feed in toilets;
    3. Children should be banned from aeroplanes;
    4. Religion should be taught in schools.

    Alternatively, we can try to target a higher standard, even if the chance of success across the population is very low.

    Public Joe
    Date and time
    June 06, 2014, 6:44AM
    • Cyclists should not only pay rego and CTP - they should have brake lights and indicators.

      Punctuation and gramma is not as important as the message.

      Date and time
      June 06, 2014, 7:59AM
    • Jesus Joe,

      Your list seems idiosyncratic; esoteric, perhaps even eccentric.

      Or, is it a case of the Cockney Fish Shop?

      Too many chips?

      Date and time
      June 06, 2014, 8:09AM
    • Public Joe,

      you contend that spellings like WOT or LUV are wrong. I suggest to you that English is riddled with ridiculous spelling that shud be fixed!

      knife - pointless silent K
      receipt - silly silent P
      rough, bough and dough - look the same, all sound different

      English spelling reform wud save time, the environment and money.

      Date and time
      June 06, 2014, 8:17AM
    • I fail to see any equivalence in your examples. I'll provide a different perspective using better examples. If we weren't willing to change and find better (and usually easier) way to do things there would be no:

      Date and time
      June 06, 2014, 8:41AM
    • @Gman: How Ironic, 1600 people die on our roads every year and you're intent is to focus on bike registration and brake lights.

      Some times we need to focus on the real issue and not the ignorant one,

      wrong side of town
      Date and time
      June 06, 2014, 8:46AM
    • Skimmer, whilst I was only being both facetious and a little trolling, gman does illustrate my point about ignorance quite well.

      See, SpellingSux, you write "shud", obviously to replace "should", yet fail to understand that "shud" would be pronounced as in "shudder".

      Louis, no chips here, mate.

      Public Joe
      Date and time
      June 06, 2014, 8:51AM
    • Whoa.. religion taught at school? Are you sure about that? Actually don't even answer that, you're the one who suggested it but hey, majority of parents/teachers would prob feel uncomfortable teaching just a religion. You do realise we live in a multicultural country and there are far too many religions and conflicts about which one is best or who did what and how so why would you even say that. Plus, if you want religion, take your kids to weekend school where they teach your preferred religion but don't go telling people that it should be taught at school.

      Date and time
      June 06, 2014, 9:12AM
    • Emily, oh dear. Grab a cuppa and read Joe's comment again. Poor grammar signifies ignorance, and in these days of spell checkers, laziness.

      Shaking Eagle
      Date and time
      June 06, 2014, 9:34AM
    • I also should say, I didn't mean to write 'prob' for probably.

      Date and time
      June 06, 2014, 9:45AM

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