Grammar snobbery is outdated in the social media revolution

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Lavanya Mookerjee

The Guardian, Britain’s national newspaper, put up a video, sometime back, suggesting “grammar snobs are patronizing, pretentious and just plain wrong.” It argued that “those who chose to correct others’ language are clinging to conventions that are unimportant” and that grammar snobbery is often used to “silence those who have less of a voice in society.”

Yes, language can be used as a subtle tool by the educated to oppress those who have not had the same class privileges.

Ghanaian blogger, Delalorm Semabia, explained in a conversation about eradicating Queen’s English in Ghana: “the idea that intelligence is linked to English pronunciation is a legacy of colonial thinking.”

It does not require a vigorous flight of imagination to know that good language skills are always much appreciated. The history of English language is fascinating but it has much to do with the education system that one has been fortunate enough to receive.

However, there’s a time and a place for using so-called “proper” English and ridiculing anyone who steps outside of what is deemed as acceptable.

If that were so, J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye would have had no place in the annals of literature, riddled as it is in slangs and curse words. As such, the book was a break-away from accepted standards of writing.

Now with social media outlets, such as Twitter and Tumblr, developing niches for populations that are underrepresented in mainstream society; the growth of each of such niches online has paved the way towards a creatively subversive play on the mechanics of language.

Functioning as micro-editorials, social media allows space for millions, globally, to respond to news stories in real-time. Even as a corporate entity, the social media flexes democratic power by challenging millions to exercise the magic of critical thinking.

Tune into the right accounts, and any one of us can instantly be engaged with influential online activists, who regularly critique popular media news stories and legal rulings on vitriolic issues, such as racism, misogyny, LGBT acceptance, disability rights, and others.

Twitter’s efficacy is rooted in brevity. Regardless of the complexity, we have 140 characters to define our position. In this region, expressing the bottom line takes precedence over the art of composing long, intricate, and finely-manicured sentences. As a result, the subversion of grammar and the use of short-hand are particularly essential in Twitter’s cultural lexicon.

In other words, grammar isn’t as critical on social media as the thought behind the language.

This is revolutionary, considering the long history of using grammar to distinguish the literate from the illiterate. The way many Twitter users utilize language directly defies formal grammatical standards as a linguistic act of defiance against oppressive institutions.

Inclusivity is principal in this act, and there is a strict understanding that content supersedes grammar.

To elaborate, since grammar is acquired through schooling that is often denied to those who attend underfunded school districts or those who lack access to secondary and higher education, comprehensive knowledge of grammar is an indication of class privilege, which is often swept under the rug. No one wants to talk about how privileged we are. We just want to harp on our points of oppression.

Therefore, posting grammatically incorrect tweets on issues such as economic inequality is in itself a powerful action, signifying that it is, indeed, possible to have intellectual conversations outside of the formal mechanics taught by the education system. Our grammar does not have to be perfect to discuss the exploitative pursuit of economic progress in our finite planet.

What’s particularly innovative is that terminology that once used to be confined to the ivory walls of academia have become integrated into Twitter’s lexicon. For instance, Kimberlé Crenshaw’s “intersectionality,” Moya Bailey’s “misogynoir,” and P.H. Collins’s “matrix of domination” are regularly used in such dialogue. The blend of colloquialisms with academic jargon levels the playing field between the masses and academic professionals to communicate relevant research to those who may not have access to it outside of social media.

For instance, members of the Latin American community have often raised the challenges of participating in a work environment that was hostile to non-native English speakers. They said, instead, that Twitter was a public outlet in which they could express their struggles in a mix of both Spanish and English without judgment.

In India, however, knowing English is a class privilege and access to English education is restricted to those of the elite who can afford the steep tuition of private schools. Therefore, the intentional de-centering of grammar facilitates the inclusion of working-class migrant populations.

Code-switching, the intuitive art of speaking in a mix of two or more languages is common on social media and the result is less referred to as “broken English” and is more often accepted as “linguistic diversity.”

The internet has a tendency to “flatten” experiences and nuances that are more prevalent offline. Manipulating grammar and vocabulary, along with flexing the use of humor, shared internet memes, and smartphone photography, all help to return tone, personality, and a sense of humanity to otherwise isolated blocks of anonymous text.

This technique is specifically important on regions of social media where underrepresented populations collaborate, discuss, and share experiences with the goal of understanding the ways in which the personal is connected to the political.

With the resulting acceptance of shared humanity within the context of differing histories, the social media serves as both a support system and a platform for debate and discussion for voices that are generally suppressed by mainstream narratives.

Lavanya Mookerjee, has received the Tim Marks scholarship for the Arts, the Academic Excellence award and the 2013 Franis J. Ryan award for “Best Undergraduate Research Paper” at Eastern American Studies Association Conference.She was also a digital humanities panelist for 2017 Modern Language Association Conference (MLA) and an invited researcher at Georgia Tech’s Humanities Data Visualization workshop. She is currently working while pursuing a second post-graduate degree.

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