On Language and the Possibility of Prescriptivism

I consider blogging part of my job now. When you want to become a professional writer, you have to take every opportunity you can to write and to learn… and to have your grammar ripped apart. I admit, I haven’t been a saint when it comes to pleasing the grammar gods, but I haven’t been intentionally naughty, either.

I consider myself a writer with the best intentions; I’m just not always sure how to use them.

That is why I use every resource I can to learn about what’s considered “proper.”

I think human beings should take speaking as seriously as they take walking or listening to music. If someone was bad at walking, wouldn’t they do what they could to improve? Wouldn’t they have a natural inclination to want to walk like everyone else? As people, we’ve been given the gift of walking and we expect to be able to use it. If someone was poor regarding their use of grammar (and speaking in my humble opinion) wouldn’t they want to improve their English so that they could speak properly and be able to converse with the majority of society?

These days, there are so many different vernaculars, which are a close off-shoot of English, that deeming one particular version as “correct” is impossible these days, even for the experts. When writing professionally, you must decide between using the MLA, AP, or Chicago style.

Using abbreviations such as “IMO” or “lol” is typical of Internet-Speak, or geek-speak if you prefer. People who frequent online communities like Facebook, and especially online games like World of Warcraft and Fortnight, use their own language filled with internet slang like the above examples.

I believe that there exists, floating somewhere out in the fibers of space and our minds, THE manual for correct grammar, even if we’ll never know it. Call me a prescriptivist about language, but having to decide amongst three different styles in which to write seems to defeat the purpose of having a “style guide.” How can it be called a “guide!” They should simply be called “suggestions, that are usually wrong.”

Granted, I’ll only be using one style per article or paper, so it’s not as though I’m balancing multiple style guides in my head while I write. The point is just that the linguistic prescriptivist in me believes there is only one correct language, that’s used universally. To elaborate a bit more: it’s kind of like math equations, where language is an equation. But, it’s all Wishful Thinking. Too many classes in The Philosophy of Language!

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I found some comics from my favorite site, along with an interesting debate on prescriptivism with Harry Potter as the example!

Link: Prescriptivism vs Descriptivism: A Very English Affair

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Page Fright: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Words

One of my books says that you aren’t a true writer if you don’t feel a stabbing anxiety in your chest every time you look at a blank screen. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one out there that goes through a minor panic attack while deciding which words are worthy enough to fill the vast whiteness confronting me. Ralph Keyes, the author of the aforementioned book, “The Courage to Write,” calls it “page fright.”

How does one break through this terror in order to produce a book? That question has yet to be answered (I’m not far enough into the book), but even when it is, there’s a good chance I won’t believe it. I’m sure that I’ll understand the argument’s logic, but belief is another realm entirely.

It’s discouraging, because I have so many ideas that I want to commit to paper. Who cares if the world reads them; I just want to write them. You may be thinking, “If you don’t plan on letting others read your personal work, then of what are you afraid?” Honestly, I’m afraid of letting myself down and losing myself in the process. Ever since third grade, when I wrote my very first poem, I’ve been dubbed a “writer” by my family. Later, it was my teachers who encouraged me to pursue writing. For my entire life, my identity has revolved around being a writer — so what if I try to write a novel and fail? What will become of my identity then?

I know that being a decent writer isn’t the only thing that defines me. I began to list within this post other things that I also consider to define me, and it turned into a huge overhaul of my “About Me” section — complete with pictures! So if you get bored, check it out, leave a comment, “like” the page; you know, all those things that validate my self-worth. (Kidding… maybe…)

Back to the topic at hand. I’m going to try reasoning through my problem, since I’m sure there are several invalid premises lingering around there somewhere:

I’m never satisfied with anything I write, so it goes without saying that I won’t be satisfied with any work I produce for my book. If I’m unsatisfied with something I’ve written, yet let others read it, most of the time they praise my work. It would seem unlikely that every person who compliments my work is lying (just to make me feel good, which is what I’ve always been inclined to think). As such, at least some of my writing must be good, regardless of the dissatisfaction that I feel. I shouldn’t put so much weight on what I think since I’m always going to think it’s bad, unless told otherwise (I’m a sucker for external validation, a habit that I need to stop). Therefore, I have no reason to expect that my book will turn out unsatisfactory and should NOT listen to myself when it comes to self-evaluation, period.

TL;DR — I should not let my harsh self-critiques stop me from writing, since my judgement is often flawed.

With that settled, where do I begin? I have several ideas: a children’s book where the princess saves the kidnapped prince; a futuristic, post-apocalyptic novel that deals with a society that rediscovers technology; and last — but not least — my thought-provoking and tragic zombie tale, which I’ll be writing with my brother, since we came up with the idea together (it’s just going to be one research-intensive book).

At least I can blog without “page fright.” That’s a start.

I’m starting a new tradition where I put a picture in every post. Today’s picture is courtesy of XKCD.

Don’t think; Act!

Oh, private language. I know it all too well. Wittgenstein might have thought differently about it had he suffered from anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Psychology has at times been the butt of many a joke, with Behaviorism in particular (gavagai, anyone?), but it serves a purpose – even if this purpose is rather self-indulgent at times. How many times has someone told you to stop worrying about something, or to make yourself go to the store despite a lack of motivation?

Gavagai? Gavagai!

I wrote a Philosophy paper in 2003 on the normativity of ethics and still hold some of my arguments to be true. I do believe that there is right and wrong in this world because we believe it to be so, while adhering to the claim that values must be objective. I didn’t come up with this line of reasoning myself, as it was derived from Christine Korsgaard, who derived it from Immanuel Kant. The premise of the argument is that there exists within us both an acting-self and a thinking-self, and the two are in constant communication with one another. Simply put: If you tell yourself to exercise and then go jogging, you’ve just had a “conversation” between your acting-self (the jogger) and your thinking-self (the one telling you to go jog). To me, this just seems intuitively right; however, I’ll gladly listen to arguments to the contrary, lest I forget my Philosophical roots. Whether the existence of these two parts of one’s inner-self entails the the normativity of values is up to those much wiser than myself.

If you’ve read this far, then you’re probably wondering why the hell does any of this matter? It matters to me because my thinking-self is overwhelming my acting-self to the point that it immobilizes me in thought… and anxiety. This is the way I think when dealing with my anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Maybe it’s not that my thinking-self takes over but that my two “selves” are so disconnected that I can’t listen to myself. I know that putting it that way makes me sound crazy, but I also know that every person reading this can relate.

I need to find a way to get my acting-self to take command. But, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? If I had that answer, I’d be the richest psychiatrist in the world.