Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bad Grammar-Is It Really Bad?

     Well, I have gone and done it. I have gone and written and published a book that is full of good people who are smart and educated and drive cars and can go on dates and read books and everything, but their grammar-is bad. Not all of them, and not all the time. Some of them do it all of the time, and most of them do it some of the time, but what is really going on? Were they not paying attention in English class when their teachers rapped their knuckles with rulers and drove home the point, "Mother, may I?"

       In the last couple of years that I have been writing, I have been thinking about this issue, I'm sure, a lot more than most people do. Since I decided to write the way people actually speak, I had to start listening. Really listening. I really listen to myself more, and since I was writing about Western New Yorkers (state, not city), I was mostly listening to them while I was living back there a couple of years ago. I live in Utah now, and when we first came here, people would say that they could tell I wasn't from here or that I was from back east. Sometimes speech alone can make us feel like we have landed on another planet. I remember years ago, being in the car in Tennessee when my father was trying to find the house of someone named 'Brown.' He actually stopped and asked someone. "You lookin' fer Bray-own?" the man said, to my father's blank stare. Finally Dad said, "Did you say 'Brown' or 'Bray-own?'" "Bray-own," the man answered. "Bray-own? I'm looking for Brown," my father said. "Yeah, Bray-own," said the man. This conversation might have gone on indefintely if I hadn't gotten out of the car and whispered to my Dad, "He's saying Brown." To this day, I don't remember if we ever found Mr. Brown, but I will never forget that conversation. My father came out of that interaction thinking that the man must be an idiot, and the man probably thought the same thing about him. It was truly a language barrier.

       But people from the south are not the only people with accents. Everyone has an accent. If you speak, you have an accent. And so I move on to the question of grammar. Southerners use the term "y'all" to refer to several people. Where I come from, we don't use y'all-we say "yis," "youse," and "youse guys." It means the same thing. If you don't want to go someplace, you might say, "I am not going." If your friends insist and you still don't want to go, you can make a more powerful statement by saying, "I ain't going!" It might be improper grammar, but it's also more forceful. The guy who says 'ain't' knows he ain't supposed to say ain't, but its use doesn't make him stupid. It's part of the way we speak there, if we choose to. If you go walking through my small town of Medina, New York and just listen, you'll hear it. You'll hear ain't, and glorious double negatives like "ain't got no," "don't have no," and the wonderful "don't want no." Do you shower or do you take a shower? Do you use a drawer, or do you, like my Grandma, keep your clothes in a draw? If you accidentally hit your thumb with a hammer, would you let out a string of swear words that would be familiar to most, or would you say, "MINSKYA!" which is heavily in favor in my region of New York (and do you know what it means?).

      The other day when I was trying to get the kids off to school, I was amazed to hear myself say, "Git ya stuff!" Yeah, that's me, all educated and everything. I'm my own best example for the where I get the speech used by my characters. When I can't listen to myself, I listen closely to my mother (she lives with us and is readily available), and if I need to hear it in a man's voice, I stop and ask myself, "how would my brother say it?" He still lives there, so he's probably my best example. I had a friend all through elementary school and through high school graduation who was one of the smartest kids in the class, and she never failed to say 'axe' instead of ask. We use 'seen' when we should have said 'saw.' If you have a small stream near your house, you will probably say that you live near the 'crik.' If someone says, "Which ones do you want?" I'll point and say, "Them ones." Or maybe, "Those ones." "I seen them ones down by the crik," I might say. I've been to college and everything. So if I speak that way, as an educated person, what does that say about me? I think it tells you where I'm from. Nothing more.
      Some of my book reviewers (who ain't from where I'm from) have said how they liked the story, but that the bad grammar drove them nuts. How the male main character (the best looking man in the county) was 'less attractive' because of his poor grammar. One reviewer even said that 'educated people don't talk that way!' I am thinking that some of these people have not done a lot of careful listening to other people over their lives. Most of us abbreviate words when we speak, or else we would all sound like the Queen of England. Our everyday vocabulary is replete with words like yer, git, ya, among others. I really do talk this way. I use ain't (don't see nothin' wrong with it), I use double negatives. I like the way I talk, I like the way we sound! And I am educated. Yep, sure am.

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