No Grammar, Please; We're Programmers

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             Every day we are bombarded by subtle messages that form perceptions we think are our own. One of these is that the "hard" sciences like Engineering are completely different from the "soft" sciences like English. Such perceptions are so deeply ingrained that the image of the scrawny, socially inept 'code monkey,' the bespectacled yet poorly read technician, and the effete but erudite literary scholar have become stereotypical tropes. The dirty underbelly of these clichés is the often-expressed assumption that in the humanities one writes eloquently but with undue artistry about what you feel while in the sciences one writes unambiguously about what is real and objective.

            At the heart of these laughable (if pitiable) ideas is the misconception that grammar is the art of the pedantic. The English language enjoys a popularity and omniprevalence hitherto unknown by any language in the history of ... well ... everything. Even Latin did not achieve the complete influence and prestige of English on the global scale (unless you consider its impact through English). A side-effect of English's rise to ubiquity is that many native Anglophones presume that what they say is precisely what they mean. With such an assumption widely held by many, it only makes sense that formal grammar  just gets in the way. After all, we all know what we really mean, right?

            The really strange thing is that there are millions of professional and amateur grammarians who have no idea what a perfective participle or future less vivid clause is.  They use perfect grammar every time they sit down to write because if they don't then their overall project collapses. I am referring, of course, to computer programmers. Everything found in grammar -- agreement, phrases, clauses, nested arguments, not to mention a vast host of errors -- can be found in every single computer language, but while programmers accept the absolute rigidity of their languages, spoken English remains a cesspool of vague references and repetitive gestures.

            Of course, all of this could be attributed to linguistic change. The word 'bird' was originally pronounced 'brid' by the Anglo-Saxons, but over the centuries people found it easier to swap the 'i' and the 'r.' (The same process, incidentally, led Plies to write the rap song 'Chirpin' instead of 'Trippin') The stock phrase 'going to' has now officially fused into 'gonna.' Apple-Correct recognizes it. It appears in many technical manuals. All that remains is for it to be entered into dictionaries as a genuine contraction, but perhaps this is a 'softer' trend than advocates of 'hard' thinking would like to think themselves capable. in the end, to demand correct grammar may be to treat meaning and language with the same rigorous logic as any computer.

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This page contains a single entry by Legible Larry published on April 25, 2013 9:35 PM.

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