14 April, 2009

Language Is A Slippery Thing

This post is a response to the comment made by Samurai in the post below. It's probably more of an answer than he was asking for, but I didn't have a simple answer to give. Hope it helps, Samurai!

The author of the article I reference below wrote a book about using English called The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. I haven't read it, but based on that article I think it may be worth reading. During my formative years, I read On Writing Well by William Zinsser, which falls into some of the same traps that Strunk & White set. It was an interesting book, but like most sources, should be taken with a grain of salt. Language is constantly changing and shifting into the tool that is most useful. Trying to limit this tool is foolish. Teaching others how to use this tool, however, is necessary.

Frankly, the best sources of information on writing that I've found are my favorite authors. Study their writing, and you'll learn way more than any textbook could tell you. Their writing got your attention, didn't it? It makes sense to learn from them. Granted, having technical knowledge of grammar and literary devices will help you understand their writing. I had issues with articles of speech and syntax until I learned other languages because this technical knowledge was vital to the learning process. But don't let technique kill creativity.

I like to ask questions of authors while reading their literature. What do I like about this book? This sentence? This word picture? How does it work so well? What does the author say in his writing? Not say? Can I use these methods in my writing? What audience does this style of writing reach? Could I adapt it to reach my own audience? I could go ad nauseam, but I'm going to take a page from Zinsser and keep the fluff out :-)


Breka said...

Zinsser is not the only one to say 'keep the fluff out'. Strunk and White said the same thing :-p

samurai said...

Thank you Laedelas,

I checked out the links and i don't think i will be taking advantage of the Cambridge book... even at $33 for a used one, it is a bit steep for my pocket book right now.

I like how you ask yourself those questions while you read, and i can see how they help you. But for me, so far, i have found that that derails my reading. I then lose track of the forest through the trees as it were. My attention span is poor at best. So much so that i often have to create mini-bookmarks to keep track of some of the characters. :(

I think for me i should try and start at some basics... learn more about adverbs, adjectives, sentence structure, etc. Then i can begin to learn more about the overall writing process more.

Would something like English Grammar for Dummies be an ok starting point for someone who has not passed an English class since the first semester of 10th grade? (Although i have passed English Composition 010 - after four attempts).

Thank you for both your patience and your time. 8)

aka "samurai"

Laedelas Greenleaf said...

Hey Samurai! So sorry it's taken me a while to respond to this post. EGFD looks like a decent book, but nothing you couldn't get online for free (i.e. Wikipedia.org). You could also find a lot of books at the library about grammar and stuff. I'm looking forward to hearing about the progress of your writing!