Glorious grammar

It’s time we re-discovered the magic of syntax.

Those are words I never thought I’d write, considering most of my text messages are comprised of emoticons. My new passion for sentences came from a strange source — a beginner Latin course this summer.

In May, I scoffed when my professor told us that she hadn’t learned how to speak English before she learned Latin. I come from a family replete with lovers of language — readers, writers, editors, actors, journalists and academics. I was confident I knew how to form a thought.

My tune changed when I was faced with a sentence and told to find the indirect object. I balked. As I attempted to recall snatches of Schoolhouse Rock from my childhood, it dawned on me that three years of university essays and four languages later, I was only just learning basic English.

This led me to wonder about how we teach English in schools. I can remember being taught how to construct an essay and a paragraph, but I can’t recall ever being told how to form a sentence. The word “parse” conjures up images of Victorian terror, but it’s time we re-learned how to communicate.

Although English has developed organically, and words like “selfie” and “srsly” have been added to the Oxford Dictionary Online, we can’t throw away the building blocks that make communication intelligible.

People, for the most part, don’t intend to construct sentences poorly, or use punctuation incorrectly. They get (understandably) defensive when it’s brought to their attention. However, ignorance shouldn’t be an excuse.

When we sit down at our laptops for that essay all-nighter, we shouldn’t regard the final result as the desperate scribblings of a half-conscious brain, but rather as a work of art — a complex tapestry of connotation, implication, careful word choice and, above all, syntax.

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