Gwynne and Marsh: Questions of Grammar
I attended a debate last night. Titled Questions of Grammar, it featured David Marsh, Production Editor for the Guardian, and Nevile Gwynne, author and pompous buffoon.
The premise was a discussion on the merits of grammatical education, although it was confused slightly between this topic and a wider one about the evolution or otherwise of language.
Gwynne was stuck in the Dark Ages, arguing for the rigorous education of every nuance of grammar.
His view was that while words have changed, grammar has not changed significantly since the 16th century. And that every child should learn its intricacies so that they know when to stray and when not to. (Shit, did I just start a sentence with a conjunction?) Someone not educated in grammar is, after all, incapable of thinking, so he believes.
His argument against the use of “hopefully” when qualifying an entire sentence, while grammatically watertight, was utter bunkum.
Marsh was more pragmatic, accepting, nay embracing, grammatical evolution. He delighted over split infinitives and quoted some grammatical ugliness from Wodehouse that simply sang *because* of its grammatical ugliness. (I wish I could source the quote.)
At one point, through the powerful use of utter fiction, Gwynne cited a causal link between declining grammatical education and the suicide rate in the UK. Shoot me now!
The high point of the evening was when a girl from the audience, aged around eight, stood up (after being invited to do so by our chair, Matthew Reisz) to confidently refute Gwynne’s suggestion that schools stopped teaching grammar in the 1960s. (Ah bollocks. Split infinitive.) Her Islington school was, she informed us, rigorously educating its students in the specifics of grammatical structure.
The low point of the evening was when Gwynne retorted almost angrily, asking whether the girl knew what a conjunction was.
I myself asked a question of the protagonists:
Is American English a different language altogether, or are they simply illiterate?
My question was intentionally loaded, prompted in part by a very eloquent lady, who sounded vaguely American, having previously asked a question. Gwynne berated the intentional bastardization of the language by the Americans, while Marsh cited their use of some traditional constructs, such as “gotten”, that have fallen out of favour/favor over here.
(As an aside, my view is that the Americans have some beautiful constructs – the use of write as a transitive verb (“write someone”); the omission of a preposition in “schedule a meeting Monday”. Any assertion that American English constitutes a different language because of subtle grammatical differences is preposterous.)
To me, Gwynne came across as inaccessible and unapproachable. His formal stance made one not want to listen to him, thus defeating his own argument about the important constituent parts of communication. Marsh came across as fun (to the extent that grammarians can be fun) and accessible.
I could see myself sharing a Nando’s with Mr. Marsh; but hopefully I’ll never encounter Mr. Gwynne ever again.