This is your EMWP Summer Institute Book Group blog. You are asked to post at least once a week before and during the Institute. Your group leader will post additional assignments and post topics. Check back often. If you have any questions or concerns contact your leader, Cindy.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Writing, Like Speech, Should Be Practical

While I have my own qualms with some of Elbow’s statements, I appreciate his overall approach towards writing: it is a tool for communication that should be used in a way that aligns with how we speak.  Writing should fit logically alongside speech, rather than the two being at odds with one another. Elbow’s logical and user-friendly approach to language is reflected in how he structures the book itself, too. I like how he sets up the shaded boxes to help illustrate his argument and prefaces the main text with the instructions that the boxes can be skipped without disrupting the narrative.  I agree that the evolution of “standard” writing should keep up with the ever-changing conventions of speech. What happens in reality, however, is that the guidelines of “standard English” seem to change more slowly. Rather than adapting to changes in speech, “standard English” fights against the natural evolution of language. This perpetuates the attitude that new shifts in spoken language are incorrect.

Writing in the English language is held as the “authority” of language. I thought it was interesting to learn about Native Americans’ mistrust of the written word and preference for the spoken word, because the importance of writing as the method of setting contracts and important statements, previously, seemed inherent to me. It seemed only natural that writing is set above spoken language in the importance hierarchy. In reality, though, our culture has so long-trusted the written word that we are only accustomed to thinking of writing as setting the standards for “correct" language.

Another assumption I think many take for granted is that “correct" writing should be different from how we speak most naturally.  Elbow states on page 28, “Our culture, like many others, has somehow come to insist on a dialect for correct writing that is different from anyone’s mother tongue.” I have to ask, why is that? Also, how does this standard work to the detriment of its speakers? Will this misalignment between spoken language (also the “mother tongue”) and “correct” written English continue? Will the adaptation of written standards to accommodate shifts in spoken language always move at sloth-like speed?

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