Writers On Writing / Why we shouldn’t disparage textspeak: with Susan McKerihan

We interviewed professional grammar maven Susan McKerihan ahead of her one-day workshop at Writing NSW, Grammar Essentials.

Sarah McKerihan Grammar Essentials

Why is a knowledge of grammar important, when there are so many resources on the internet?

Short answer: knowledge is power!

Many internet resources don’t answer your immediate question or help you with additional questions. Also, not all websites are reliable, and you can fall into a hole of inconsistencies. If you have a knowledge of grammar, time saved!

The rise of the internet is often associated with declining literacy and grammar skills. Is this a fair observation, in your opinion?

No, although I can understand why people think so. The internet – in particular social media – has produced rapid changes in language use, and because those changes are so visible and widespread, it can be confronting. So new words, phonetic spelling, abbreviations and lack of punctuation are disparaged as incorrect. But ‘correct’ doesn’t always equal ‘appropriate’. Textspeak is fine for social networking platforms because it replicates spoken, spontaneous language. On the other hand, a more grammatically polished style is appropriate for academic work, business communications, job applications, etc. Most people instinctively adjust their language according to the medium. It’s called code-switching and we do it all the time.

There have been complaints about ‘declining standards’ for centuries, yet English always bounces back and does its job of allowing us to tell our stories.

Beyond the there/their/they’re debacle, what are the most common grammatical mistakes made by writers?

Understanding apostrophe use; incorrect placement of commas (eg. Jane Bloggs, is the youngest doctor ever employed at the medical centre); and lack of agreement between subject and verb (eg. The scope of the new engagements were constantly changing). This all probably sounds very technical, but once you’re familiar with the terminology it will make perfect sense.

Grammar Essentials will take place at Writing NSW on Saturday 1 June, 10am-4pm. Book your spot here>

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