grammar slammer

I’ve been doing a bit of bedtime reading the last few nights on grammar. Riveting stuff, grammar. Depending on how you look at it.

I thought that I was half decent at grammar, since this was what I had excelled at during high school and my university essays. According to this course that I am embarking upon in medical transcription, however, I fall way short of the literary mark. I am failing woefully in my application of commas, present and past tense usage, sentence structure, and document layout.

Admittedly, the average medical document is a different beast, and sometimes it can have rules and regulations all of its own above and beyond the intricacies of the grammatical code. Basically I need to keep my wits about me, which can be difficult when I am also trying to concentrate on a multitude of dictators whose idea of communication is mumbling, speed reading, yawning, chewing and waffling. I realise that the dictator is not there for my convenience, and has probably dictated the same stuff a hundred times before, so they know what they are saying and they are over it. But for pity’s sake, do they have to make it even more difficult to turn out a grammatically correct document that also adheres to what they are trying to spit out when they themselves aren’t very good at observing the rules of grammar?

Most of us have a basic understanding of grammar, or the English grammar. The ESL (English second language) dictators are a different animal, so let’s not go there. The most fundamental rule of grammar is good sentence structure. A basic sentence is composed of at least one independent clause. A clause is composed of a minimum of a subject and a predicate. The subject of a clause is an entity such as a person, place, object. The predicate in the sentence gives information about the subject.

Put simply in the sentence ‘the lion roared’, the lion is the subject, and ‘roared’, which is a verb – is the predicate describing what the lion is doing. The ‘lion’ is also the noun. Simple stuff for sure, but it is much more complicated than that once  you start adding extras, such as adverbs, adjectives, and pronouns. You can join two independent clauses together to make sense with a comma. You can join them together using a conjunction. You can divide two clauses that are related to each other by a semicolon and a transitional phrase.

I could go on, but I won’t. I have a basic understanding of the above, which is why I have taken to reading grammar books in my leisure time when I could be watching Star Trek. And for my money, there would be few doctors that would be interested in reading up on the fundamentals of good grammar on their days off. So why do I bother?

Because I’m into self-inflicted pain and suffering I guess. And somebody has to make the doctors look good on paper, that’s for sure.

I don’t need to be a grammatical genius to become a good MT, but I need to know more than what I do now, and it needs to be automatic. I guess automation comes with practice, but when there are so many rules to remember, how can you remember them all? And who makes this stuff up?

My guess is that we made it up as we went along. Language as it is didn’t just spring up in its present form in one day. It’s taken many thousands of years to reach this point, and each culture and language have different ways that they approach their rules of grammar.

The Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert are said to be the oldest living race of human beings on the planet, and it would stand to reason that their language, a complex combination of a wide variety of clicks and guttural sounds mixed with common vowels and consonants, would be the oldest language in the world.

Moving forward in time a little, to the Middle Ages in fact, ‘grammar’ basically meant the study of Latin. Please don’t ask me how we got from the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert to the ancient Romans. It’s a long story, and not one that  I’m qualified to tell. Knowing Latin was apparently associated with being an educated person, a ‘learned’ person, and the use of grammar, as it were, increased in popularity and gained prestige.

I guess it just snowballed from there, like the Bible in some ways, handed down and added to over generations. Improved, depleted, increased, modified, and ultimately made more difficult for  the layman and Joe Blow in the street.

I get by. I can write a half decent letter and waffle a good essay with the best of them. But I’m struggling with the labyrinth of endless rules, regulations, and exceptions to those rules and regulations, coupled with the wonderfully inventive medical fraternity, who have been known to ‘invent’ new words to suit their purposes.

I don’t expect that language will sit still either. Over the next few millenia, if we haven’t blown ourselves into kingdom come, language as it is right now may well be an ancient form of complex and difficult communication that is no longer used, as it is too time consuming and tedious. We may well rely on telepathy, combined with simplified visual and auditory languages such as clicks and guttural sounds.

We can only hope.

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One Response

  1. I have ESL ambitions and I’m totally not a dictator; I’m working on a generative grammar project, that is, a non-prescriptive approach; I’d be grateful for feedback,

    T

    http://travelingrammar.com

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