For language lovers and professionals, it’s easy to get worked up over how grammar skills are in decline. Typical targets of rants include how the young generation can’t write properly, current media such as texting on cell phones and the Internet contribute to bad sentences, or people simply don’t care about grammar. The amateurs, such as the self-appointed grammarians, will go on about how young people don’t handle language as well as the previous generations, whereas the professionals can pick apart the bad verb tenses, the confused antonyms, spelling errors, and misplaced punctuation, if there’s any at all. Since language is something we all use but we all don’t use so well, having mastery of it can make one feel superior.
It’s fair to say that we judge people on their dexterity with language. The more dextrous someone is, the more intelligent they seem. The person with an enormous vocabulary and a deft handling of it, especially getting words in the sentence in the right order, is considered smart. Heaven help anyone who falls short. Send a message in text speak, put in LOL’s, or use lots of slang, and let’s see how that person is perceived.
Those of us who were English or humanities majors in college often take comfort in being better or smarter than other people. But are we really?
Interestingly, people who aren’t competent in math aren’t as disparaged as those who fail to use good grammar. Many people, especially people in the humanities, will admit they aren’t good at math. What would be seen as a cop-out regarding grammar isn’t called out as such when it comes to dealing with numbers.
Most of us take for granted language as an essential skill. Being able to speak and write and speak are ubiquitous, but crucial. No one can dispute that there isn’t an area of our lives where language isn’t used. However, math is used everyday in many activities and transactions, and many often don’t stop to think about how it is used.
I have to admit I’m not a math person. Like most people, I didn’t pay attention and practice when I had the chance to study it, and obviously I didn’t retain much. So much for taking classes in higher mathematics. It’s easy to say I’m not wired that way” or “Math isn’t my thing,” but those are cop-outs. However, people like me aren’t as judged as harshly as those who “butcher” the English language, but perhaps we should be.
Consider some ramifications of poor math skills: overspending, negative bank balances, missed deadlines, impounded vehicles, poor grades, not qualifying for a career.
Perhaps if more of us were as dextrous with the numbers as we feel people should be be with language, we would have less of these problems. That said, I don’t want to oversimplify and blame our economy on everyone not being able to play with numbers, but I wonder what the economists would have to say about that: bad math skills in jobs where they should count?
Overall, the grammarians should cut everyone else some slack regarding grammar. Language is about communicating, not about getting things right. Compared to math, there is more room for variations of a sentence than there is for equations. As long is what someone said is understood, that is what matters. However, numbers are more unforgiving, especially if you get one step wrong, you will wind up in an avalanche of error. There is room for correction in sentences, especially in writing. Empathy and being able to consider another perspective will go a long way if one is to help others gain more skill in using correct grammar.