Grammar Wars

Joseph Epstein, one of my favorite writers, has a fun review of two new books on grammar.

N.W. Gwynne argues for the old-school, strict approach to grammar, whereas Steven Pinker argues to relax the old rules and embrace the age of informality, baby. Pinker’s the kind of guy who likes to explode tradition, Epstein says: “Few things give him more pleasure than popping the buttons off what he takes to be stuffed shirts”: the word “whom,” the rules about can vs. may, split infinitives, and so on.

The closing paragraph of the review:

Rather than align myself with the Gwynnians or the Pinkertons, I say a blessing on both their houses, and I would add: Let the language battles between them rage on—except that to do so would expose me to the charge of ending this review on a preposition, which I cannot allow.

One Response to Grammar Wars

  1. Scott Young says:

    I disagree. I don’t think Pinker argues at all that formality of language isn’t important. Rather, he asserts that there are various folk intuitions about how English grammar works that are simply wrong.

    If we were having this discussion about psychology or economics, and one camp had folk intuitions about how the rules by which those work which were shown to be misguided by relevant research, there wouldn’t be much of a debate.

    Reply

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