Calgary grammar elite meet to mull over the evolution of English

Calgary grammar fans came together for a panel discussion, What We Talk About When We Talk About Grammar, on Monday, Feb. 26.

The talk featured keynote speaker, writer Russell Smith, and University of Calgary professors Mark Migotti and Nicole Wyatt and was held at Shelf Life Books.

About 30 people came out to explore the mysteries of English grammar, including the evolving nature of language.

“Language changes and it has changed and there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Smith, a well-known Canadian author and arts columnist with The Globe and Mail.

The evolution of language and the resistance to those changes was a key topic of the evening, as various speakers addressed what they believed to be the inherent elitism of grammar.

Smith, who writes about fashion among other subjects, likened grammar practises to the conventions surrounding men’s fashion, stating that both are used as identifiers of one’s class and both are subject to change over time.

“What has been considered proper grammar is simply societies adopting the dialect of the preferred class,” said Migotti.

Both Wyatt and Migotti noted the many changes to what has been considered correct grammar throughout history and the resistance of grammar sticklers to the evolution of the language.

“When you mourn the moral depravity of the young in their linguist practices, part of what you’re doing is closing off the language,” said Wyatt,

“Good grammar doesn’t always make for good reading.”

While all speakers agreed that English is changing, they also expressed an affinity for conventional grammar.

Smith acknowledged the need for words to take on new meanings in the Oxford English Dictionary as usage evolves. But he lamented what he said was the loss of traditional definitions.

“Every time we lose a subtle description of meaning between two words we’ve lost a tiny colour from our pallet,” said Smith.

Migotti added further in favour of the importance of modern grammar, saying, “If you really want to use a language well, you need a sensitivity to the language. An awareness of grammar is essential.”

Participants also were invited to take a grammar quiz created for readers of The Globe.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Grammar was a panel discussing grammar presented at Shelf Life Books in Calgary on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. Keynote speaker Russell Smith is a popular Canadian journalist and author. (Photo by Santana Blanchette/The Press)
About Santana Blanchette 4 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Santana Blanchette worked as a reporter for The Press during the 2017-18 academic year.