Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rules to Shape Language

Well, I've done it again. At an outdoor display of used books one evening something caught my eye and impulsively I purchased it. This time it was a hard covered book called The Literary Workshop and subtitled 'Helps for the Writer' by one Josephine Turck Baker. It wasn't until the next day, with brighter light and some research on the internet that I discovered what I had.
The book is not about conducting a literary workshop, as might be expected. Rather, its author uses it to express her opinions on matters of style and usage. Ms Baker seems to have been one of a number of supposed authorities on the rules of language at the beginning of the last century; the most enduring of these would be Wm. Strunk's The Elements of Style. Baker wrote and published a number of such works as Correct English Publishing Co. They included volumes on the correct word, correct pronunciation, correct grammar, and the art of conversation as well as a magazine titled "Correct English."

The book contains some general rules but also gets into some very specific ones about when and how to use certain parts of speech, tenses, etc. What this book and so many like it would not consider is that language is fluid and ever changing. As I grow in understanding, my language peeves no longer seem important. (E.g. weakening the past participle of an irregular verb such as "to light" from "lit" to "lighted.") Modern usage and style seems to be governed by the style books put together by major newspapers for their staffs.

So the book I have has become a bit out of date as rules and language change. People, the ordinary users of language, begin sentences with "and" and end them with prepositions. Rules should exist to assist language, not repress it.

I'll treasure the book. It shows where language has been and proves it can not be contained.

1 comment:

annaken said...

Hi Jefferson,

What a wonderful find! I love poking about old book stores or rumage sales. There are always treasures to find. I once found a beautiful poetry book filled with religious poetry which is a real treasure to me. It was in a church rummage sale.

Hope you enjoy the book for years to come!