Is Correcting Grammar Racist?


A reporter for The Guardian, British newspaper, is saying that the act of correcting bad grammar is racist. Such is political correctness run a muck.

She says that correcting the grammar of a non-white person is a use of racial power to silence a minority person who is trying to be heard.

When I was a student in grade school, I would have agreed in principle with the reporter. At that time and place I thought English grammar was arbitrary. I thought my teacher and other adults were only using their authoritarian positions to impose their will. Being told I should say, “I am in first grade” rather than “I are in first grade,” certainly did not help my self esteem.

As I grew older, wiser and better educated, I came to understand that grammar brings clarity to any language. JFK tried to identify himself with the people of Berlin as he spoke at the Berlin wall. He intended to say he was a Berliner. Unfortunately he spoke in German (a language in which he was not fluent) and made a tiny grammatical error. As a result, the people of Berlin heard him say that he was a jelly doughnut.

German is a very precise language that requires proper grammar to say what one means. Likewise romance languages are very dependent on grammar. Verb endings determine who or what is the subject (case and number) of a sentence. Verb endings also define present tense, past tense, etc. Because of the importance of verb endings, people speaking Spanish frequently omit the leading pronoun. Thus a person saying in Spanish, “Go to the store,” may be saying, “I go to the store,” “We go to the store,” or “** go to the store,” where ** can be they, he, she, you singular or you plural depending on the grammar. In Spanish, masculine nouns end in O and feminine nouns end in A. It is easy to insult someone by accident simply by interchanging final A’s and O’s.

English does not rely as strongly on grammar as some languages, but grammar adds many subtleties to the interpretation of English. To say one can use bad grammar just because they are a minority is actually making it more difficult for them to communicate effectively in English.

I am a minority here in New Mexico. Yes, there are more citizens of Spanish descent than Anglos (people who sprang from other European nations). I have learned some Spanish. When I speak Spanish my errors are corrected by the Spanish. This does not mean they are trying to discriminate against me or intimidate me. It means the are trying to help me.

Of course, there are polite and impolite ways to correct one’s language. When we correct someone’s language use or grammar, we need to be kind and gentle. Yes, some people come across as being critical when they rudely or angrily correct bad grammar, but gentle words turn away wrath. Criticism should always be constructive. We need to recognize that were we speaking in a foreign language, most of us would be making errors in grammar and pronunciation. We would appreciate being treated kindly.

As long as we are polite, we are not being racists by correcting errors. We are helping them. When I am speaking in German or in Spanish (both are learned languages for me), I appreciate it when I am given constructive criticism. Constructive criticism helps me build my linguistic skills.

Reynold Conger is a retired scientist and teacher who now writes fiction. Check out his books at ReynoldConger.com.

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About Reynold Conger

Reynold Conger is a retired scientist, engineer and teacher. Now writing fiction. His books are CHASED ACROSS AUSTRALIA, MY KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR and REDUCING MEDICAL COSTS (AT THE COST OF HEALTH). He has also started a series of novelas called THE RICHARD TRACY SERIES. Residence: New Mexico, USA Hobbies: gardening, animals and running. website www.ReynoldConger.com
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