I felt flattered when I received a request from Oxford University Press Canada for permission to include my article “Social disconnect leads to ethnic enclaves” (2013, October 16, The Province) in an upcoming e-book. My ego was deflated when I found out the book, entitled: Skill Set with Grammar, was about the better usage of English grammar. My article will be included in the section containing samples of articles for readers to practice how to spot and correct improper use of grammar.
As a matter of fact, feelings of hurt, humiliation, and resentment ran through my mind. My initial reaction was to reject the request. Why do I want my article to be held out as an example of poor use of English Grammar? After all, English has been my working language for almost 40 years. Besides, the article was published by a respectable English newspaper whose editor had gone over the article and corrected any mistakes deemed unacceptable. So if there were any bad choice of grammar, I am not the only person responsible.
I then thought of the so call Donald Trump theory of publicity: it does not matter if it is good or bad publicity as long as your name gets mentioned in the media. So with that in mind, I negotiated a very nominal honorarium and gave my permission.
But the real point of all of this, I thought, is how important it is to master correct usage of English grammar. I grew up speaking Chinese. I can read and write in either the classical or the contemporary style Chinese with ease. The difference between the two is almost like Victorian English used by Shakespeare and current day English used by Margaret Atwood. However, people who are fluent in Chinese in its written form know that the Chinese language has a vastly different grammatical structure than English. The Chinese language does not have tenses. It uses reflective adjectives to describe time. Verbs are not modified according to whether the subject it attached to is singular or plural.
Just to make things more complicated, there are many exceptions to the rules in English grammar! So you can imagine how difficult it is for someone like me to try to master English grammar.
But throughout my career, I have seen how native speakers, particularly those who has a degree majoring in English tend to look down upon or discount the ideas of people who wrote with improper grammar. To these people, inability to master English grammar is tantamount to weak logical skills and even low IQ. So instead of trying to understand and appreciate the idea being presented, these folks would just put the paper aside and ignore the ideas no matter how worthy of consideration it may be.
This is a terrible waste of talent and human resources because we do live in a multicultural and multilingual environment. There are many people, me included, who, no matter how hard they tried, will have difficulty in achieving perfect use of grammar. You would have likely noticed several grammatical mistakes in this article so far! But to discount what I have to say in this article because of my grammatical mistakes would be to deny the existence of another side of issue.
There are two ways to remedy the situation. The first is to publish books such as the Oxford University Press of Canada is publishing to help people to master English Grammar. The second, I think is more important from my personal experience, is for native English speakers to tune down their cultural superiority. They need to remove from their mind the notion that the ability for correct grammar usage is an indication of mental capacity. What matter is the substance and not the expression of the idea.
At the end of the day, my article still gets noticed and I am glad I will contribute to the improvement of people’s grammatical skills. And the best of them all, I now have the bragging right of having one of my articles published by the Oxford University Press of Canada.