Monday, September 19, 2005

Letteraly

It was a time before generation Y, yet after generation X, in a city not accustomed to letters of that kind. At the time, we were a people of the Letter, with most of them written in Holy Tongue, Yiddish, or Aramaic. Of course, there was the contraband – or, contrabook – sandwiched between mattress and board, or unfolded with our pants in the cubbies; but they were the exception, not the norm.

The Jekyll and Hyde show was on, just as it is today, and we played the part to perfection. When the sun’s shining cheeks radiated, so did Dr. Jekyll; when the moon went a peek-a-boo from behind the clouds, so did Mr. Hyde. During the day we would sit in chairs long molded to our derrières, learning timeless sacred texts; during the night we would lie on beds sandy from swirling desert winds, perusing first-rate secondhand books. At times, Day and Night would switch roles, but only so when Time was measured by the clocks hand; when measured by the hearts ticking, Day remained Day and Night remained Night.

As healthy seventeen-year-olds with even healthier imaginations, during the navigation through endless passages of Talmud we would discuss, for better or worse, topics foreign to the Aramaic language. These discussions would naturally turn to the argumentative, and then, inevitably, full-out war. Even when discussing mundane themes, it would seem, the Talmudic knack for dispute would intervene.

One such discussion, based on the pages of the secondhand bookstore’s stock, was whether or not the writing geniuses – genius by our teenage standards – were grammatically correct. I, being the anarchist that I am, held they were not. Most of the others, I’m sure they are reading this and remembering that, insisted they were.

If my memory serves me correctly, for it hasn’t in the past, the argument, like most arguments in that era, was more for the sake of arguing than for the sake of clarification. Now, some four years later, for the sake of clarification, and because this topic has always haunted me, I will attempt, to make a gram of sense out of this grim grammatical grime.

Letters need rules – in fact, Letters are rules. A, B, and C are tools with which to express oneself. They are finite, but they can create infinite amount of words. The writer (I use writer, but this is true with any language form) has the ability to manipulate letters into words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into chapters, and chapters into books – until these letters, so miniscule on their own, convey a profound message as a whole.

Accordingly, for the reader to understand the writer – which is, after all, the writer’s objective – he first must be able to read that which the writer writes. Therefore, the writer cannot just combine letters as he sees fit: lest he, and his letters, be deemed misfits. This is why rules were imposed upon the rules, that is, grammar upon the letters, to ensure that reader and writer are on the same page.

These rules, both the letters and their structure, are manmade. Therefore, when a man whose expression is not bound to conventional methods comes along and manipulates the letters in a way never before manipulated, the manmade rules take a new, manmade form. Sure, at first, he is titled Crazy, but, when successful, he is titled, Genius. At first he plays beyond the rules, then he creates new rules. There are innumerable examples I could bring, and will therefore bring none.

Mundane language is manmade; it is therefore also prone to man’s creative genius. As grammar is not an end in itself, but only a means with which to formulate comprehensive ideas, then, if one were to find a better means with which to formulate his ideas, he would be foolish not to use it.

Of course, one must be an extremely talented individual to invent new means of expression, and grammar is therefore needed for us underprivileged creatures. But, wait, we are "extremely talented individuals", each to his own – so why play by the rules when we can create new ones?

(For the fear of length, to be continued...)

27 Comments:

Blogger Dovid said...

Interesting thought. I was thinking along similar lines recently; it seems the greater the writer, the more liberal he is with language use. Which isn't to say that he abuses the language; to the contrary, a great writer broadens the scope of grammar, and instead of being controlled by language, he controls it. Some of the grammatical reformations I witnessed happening on the pages I was flipping were actually breathtaking, and the courage and confidence a writer needs to reform the language that serves him is inspirational.

9/19/2005 7:25 PM  
Blogger The real me said...

While some crazy people may be called geniuses, not all of them are, so most people go with the flow.

It was the same argument that SCF tried making when he was telling me to stick with gemara instead of wandering off.

However if the new rules are in fact rules, and they make sense when applied in their own league, there is no reason now to use it. The question might be though, do we call it a new language, or a improvisation on the old one.

I am thirsty.

9/19/2005 9:10 PM  
Anonymous Maskil said...

As you mentioned the only reason for the rules is so that both the conveyer of the message and the receiver can understand the message being conveyed.

Therefore, it is necessary to use these rules when using words as a means of expression.

The laws of grammar are not just additions to the words themselves; they actually make the words what they are. The rules are such that without them words would be meaningless.

Creative minds can formulate new means of expression, but I doubt they can really change the written word.

9/19/2005 11:48 PM  
Anonymous ml said...

I tend to agrre with you in that the rules of grammar are largely in place to aid in our understanding. Examples abound of sentences that can be read in any of two or more ways depending on the punctuation and syntax. Yet, the master of the language need not limit himself to these rules. Shakeespear went so far as to coin new words and terms, poets contruct and deconstruct sentences at will. The great novelists felt no compunction in breaking all rules of grammar to get their idea across.
The continuation is sure to be interesting, so continue to interest us.

9/20/2005 2:56 AM  
Blogger The Bearded One said...

due to a slight memory deficiency (i think) i can not actually remember which side of the argument i was on. ergo i cannot comment for for fear of prooving my previous self wrong. and as we all know the point of an argument is to be right. if you can't make that work, then you arrange the cards so that all involved were rally agreeing the whole time. and if you can't even finagle yourself that far, then at least show how the other was wrong in his grammatical presentation. as i was saying, that's what i said.

9/20/2005 5:21 AM  
Anonymous maskil said...

Though it is true that writers may break the rules from time to time, nevertheless, they will not disregard them entirely.

9/20/2005 12:52 PM  
Blogger jakeyology said...

they cannot: language in itself is a rule(s).

9/20/2005 3:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is being grammatically correct synonymous with being politically correct? Or, shall I phrase the question in the negative (what many may consider positive!)sense: Is being grammatically incorrect synonymous with being politically incorrect? Just another bite of food for thought....... Is a grammatic rule an English policy? If so, hence the relation between the correct and incorrect nature of grammar and politics!!!!! If you're trying to make heads or tails of this gibberish...... well, so am I!

9/20/2005 3:31 PM  
Anonymous maskil said...

My point exactly. Both the words and the way they are put together make up a language. It is therefore impossible to disregard these laws or make new ones as these laws actually make up the language.

9/20/2005 7:58 PM  
Blogger Dovid said...

You are wrong. Proof that you are wrong is that people who disregard the rules of language stilll understand each other. Language isn't philosophy or religion. It isn't a science either. It has no inherrent meaning. Language is a man-made tool for communication. As long as people are communicating, the form they chose for their communication is called language. So, if a genious can communicate with us by streching our imaginations, he is an artist too. For example: dance is a language. In some societies people rely on "body language" more than the spoken word. So there are many forms of language. Then there is the artist who uses the written word as his tool for communication. But that shouldn't make his chosen tool an impedement. The rules are there to protect us from 'misunderstanding' the context. but if we understand it, and maybe even appreciate it better, when the rules are bent, who's to tell the writer not to follow his imagination?

9/20/2005 8:18 PM  
Blogger jakeyology said...

let us clarify: there is language, letters, and grammar.

while all three are finite (rules), only one is dispensable.

to express oneself in the written word, language and letters are a must - language, because that is needed for expression; letters, because they are needed for WRITTEN expression. (if one does not use letters, the language becomes not one of writ.)

grammar, however, is not a must. many a writer did/does not use grammar, for they found new and innovative ways, sans grammar, to use the language of letters.

i have written this in the post; but it seems i have not expressed myself grammatically, so here i elaborate.

9/20/2005 8:36 PM  
Blogger Dovid said...

You see, to say that an author, such as Mark Twain, or Ralph Ellison didn't use "grammar" is incorrect too. Grammar is the structure used to put the 'letters' into a lingual pattern. It is obvious that these authors did nothing less than that. What you are refering to is their liberalness with TRADITIONAL GRAMMAR, i.e. they believed that there were other ways to present the "letter" to the "language" than the ways we are taught in third grade. so while this has debeloped into a discussion about definitions, i maintain that the greatest abusers of [traditional] grammar are actually the champions of grammar (as they are the ones who show us the true possibilities and options when linking "letters" to "language".

9/20/2005 9:20 PM  
Blogger The Bearded One said...

priorities: mammoth opening day is november tenth. unless they get dumped early, which would be nice.

9/21/2005 2:36 AM  
Anonymous maskil said...

Can you give some examples of "great" abusers of grammer?

9/21/2005 10:44 AM  
Anonymous maskil said...

I don't know why you are under the impression that Mark Twain did not follow the conventional rules of grammer.

Have you ever read Mark Twain?

9/21/2005 10:56 AM  
Blogger Nemo said...

To abuse grammatical rules isn't hard; to abuse them coherently is a skill. You can write english like an OT'nik and then you are just putrifying it. Or you can write like some of the greatest authors, who could MANIPULATE the rules to give off his or her feelings.

Which brings us to a possible fourth rule: Prose. Literature is freedom of expression. An author expresses his charachters in different ways.

One author will tell you a story: ""Hello," John said to Sally". This is gramatically correct, but the author isn't a good author because under his terms, there is no more than an event. He describes it, but it is dry. It needs vivication.

Then their are those authors that bend the rules. They are talented enough to portray their narrative without the use of nouns {I'm not one of these authors}. They use prose to alter and give effect and meaning to the story. They will tell the story in colloquial terms, or they will describe the thought process. This need not be within the realm of grammatical rules. Our every-day speech and our thoughts aren't sytematic. There are no rules. We're not binded by the imposed parameters of the english language. And neither need our expression be.

But when communicating with others, we need rules like letters and language. English in Cyrillic letters or Russian in English lettering is not communication, besides for the selct few linguist that can decrypt this alternation. We have to have a standard though. This makes a medium of communication by which all speakers of english can communicate. And these needs grammar so that it will be coherent. But if someone can communicate their thoughts from without the guidelines of grammar, and still be understood, than kudos to him. That is litterature.

What is not literature, is that which cannot be understood. If I make a one word notation reminding myself to purchase milk, that isn't litterature. It has no grammar, but it likewise has no meaning to others besides myself. It is incomprehensible.

9/21/2005 12:24 PM  
Blogger jakeyology said...

an example of authors who did not use "conventinal grammar" (, "grammar" can also mean the STUDY of word relationships - though "linguistics" is a better suited term - so i write "conventional"):

james joyce.

earnst hemingway.

william shakespeare.

of course, their non-use of the conventional may be the conventional today (thanx to them), but when THEY took pen in hand, it was revolutionary.

that's life: the revolution becomes the norm; then the norm once again revolts...

9/21/2005 1:21 PM  
Anonymous maskil said...

The above mentioned authors do not disregard grammar; they just have different styles of writing. As nemo stated above, there is a difference between grammar and prose.

When writing, it is always necessary to obey certain grammatical laws, because, as mentioned above, these laws make the words understandable.

These laws are based on the Greek and Latin laws of writing and as the language evolved, so did the laws. This does not mean that there were entirely new systems; only that the previous ones were adapted so that they would be understood by the people of that period.

When Shakespeare writes in a certain way he is not creating new laws of Grammar; nor is he disregarding the old ones. He is simply writing in a certain style and prose which is unique to him.

It is true that some of his writing might today be considered grammatically incorrect, but this is due to the evolutionary process which grammar, like everything else, goes through.

This does not mean that there can not be any other means of expression. Take poetry for example, it does not abide by the same rules of conventional writing. But when one is writing in the conventional sense of the word a certain structure is needed.

Thus, to write without grammar is like trying to put together stones without cement, and although these laws might vary from one time period to another, it is impossible to disregard them entirely.

9/21/2005 9:14 PM  
Blogger Dovid said...

Manipulation is probably the right term. Thank you.

9/22/2005 1:43 AM  
Anonymous ML said...

Maskil,

To continue the analogy of the stones, imagine the breathtaking beauty and uniqueness of a building standing by some other means besides boring, dull, gray cement. Imagine the pleasure one would get from such a building.
This is what the great writers have done, they have fashioned novels and essays from the same bricks, the same words, the same language yet weave it all together with something new. Disregarding the old common usages and rules Shakespear weilded a vocabulary close to double the size of the average man. He was talented enough to ignore grammatical restraints and express himself through means.
Joyce shocked the world with his daring writing, his extraordinary prose and complete disregard of grammar. He felt that if the reader will understand it as such, there is no need to muddy it with archiac laws of grammar.
Ernest Hemmingway, at least what I have read, seems to the most bound to the laws of grammar. Sure his prose is startling different, his dialogue sharp and fresh yet rarely does he stray from that narrow path we call grammar.
The well beaten trail is crucial to keep common folk on track, yet is consticting to those experianced in exploring the tangled beauty, that is language.

9/22/2005 3:02 AM  
Blogger Nemo said...

But if language is essentialy for communication, what of Shakespeare who's works require immense study to understand and are hardly easy reading?

I understand that it takes a scholar to understand his genius, and we study it because he was brilliant. But all that is an exegesis and more like an archaic find than litterature that we can relate to?

9/22/2005 11:54 AM  
Blogger The Bearded One said...

we pause this monologue for station identification: this is wii fm (what's in it for me).

stat of the day: i'm engaged.

9/22/2005 3:02 PM  
Blogger jakeyology said...

engaged in what?

but really, mazzal tov.

now that u've found your better half, u gotta turn your dial to WII FU (whats in it for US).

and thnx for pausing the monologue; it was, well... a MONOlogue. i dont like mono.

9/22/2005 4:03 PM  
Anonymous cmz said...

and this is for rashi

9/23/2005 2:16 AM  
Blogger jakeyology said...

?

9/23/2005 3:38 AM  
Anonymous ML said...

Nemo,

The neaderthals communicated with monosyllabic grunts (there is that mono again). The complexity of the language has increase to keep up with the more and more comples needs to communicate. Where as in the past all that was necessary was food, warmth and death, now we express emotions, thoughts and ideas.
A deep idea will not be simply expressed much as a complex science paper will use not be written in laymans terms.
Shakespears writing are not to be easily read for they communicate profound thought.

9/24/2005 8:03 AM  
Anonymous Chomsky said...

true. true. standardized spelling, Johnson's dictionary etc. did make things much simpler for readers... (as in the innumerable spellings in Defoe and Chaucer) English is the most etymologicaly diverse language and it's quite fascinating to see why certain words and grammar rules developed and others did not (like why did the early Britons/Celts take on the Scandinavian/High German tongues and not keep their original language while later (1160s) in the French Invasion they did not??) etc. etc. In linguistics there's a good book on this subject (if any of you are at all interested...this seems to be a reading crowd) The Stories of English by David Crystal (its got a nice multicultural view).
Jake- may I add to your list of esteemed revolutionary writers
e.e. cummings?
He was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing poetry into the 'modern' era with his brilliant 'dissmisal' of grammar.
i liked this article.

namastaei to little sister Raja

10/09/2005 1:13 AM  

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