Monday, September 21, 2009

Introductory Blog Post by Cassidy Munro

Who am I and why am I here? My name is Cassidy Munro. I am taking this course as part of the Professional Writing program like most of my classmates. The reason I'm in this particular program is because, after high school, I was unsure of what I was doing, and where I was going. I knew I wanted to go to post secondary, I had an urge to learn, but I just didn’t know what classes I would take. The description of this particular course just seemed to strike a chord within me that resonated and, so, here I am! In this class I’m hoping to hone my writing skills, specifically with grammar and punctuation. It’s almost unfair that after spelling class is done in grade 6, students are just thrown into English courses without any refresher. Much of the basics of grammar I haven't touched in at least six years. What I do know about language, grammar, and punctuation is all very instinctual now, without much knowledge backing it up. For me, a major goal in this class will be to gain that background knowledge I need to understand the language I'm using and to use it effectively.

Regarding Steven Pinker's talk on language and thought, he addresses the subtleties of the English language. It is true that much of our language is subtle nuances that can seem obscure and confusing to a new learner. Pinker points out that many of these nuances are vital parts of communication. Without the indirect meanings to our words, much of what is being communicated can be lost. However, how we communicate is changing. Slang and txt speak are becoming more prominent, and this touches on another of Pinker's points. Are dictionaries dead?

Language changes quickly. In my lifetime I can remember countless terms that have come and gone, and I can think of dozens more that were before my time. This quick phase in and out of popular terms makes me believe that txt speak, slang, jargon and other abbreviations should not become a part of "standard" English. By the time every form of jargon was integrated into our language, it will have changed. Now, especially, with internet speeding along the transition of slang how can we ever keep track of what's "cool" and what's not? Websites like Urban Dictionary keep an online record of slang, but it's an open forum for additions: since 1999 it's had 4,250,575 entries. That number right there tells me the dictionary is fine without the addition of all those mostly obsolete terms.

Pinker's idea that language is a "window onto human nature" is one that rings true with me. As humans have evolved, so has our language, for it is our main method of communication. As far as I know, in this day and age there is no culture that hasn't developed a spoken language. It is through language that human beings share their thoughts, emotions and relationships. Socialising is a major part of being human and communication is the primary method of socialising. For example, when we commented on the posters we created in the first class, we all communicated with each other. The way the language was used conveyed emotions and thoughts, specifically with Kayla Gaffney's comment, who could clearly communicate to us her opinion on the Noun poster.

In the same way that communication is important, so is the format of communication. Pinker says "the verb is the chassis of the sentence". I completely agree with this statement. When humans communicate, something has to happen within that communication. If nothing happens, what exactly is the point? You start with an action, a verb, and add on to it. Without a verb, or a framework there is nothing to start with and your sentance, you communication, will collapse.

In all, Pinker had quite a few interesting and important points. He obviously knows what he's talking about, though at times I had a hard time understanding him. With careful consideration, I think I managed to get the main points, all of which are very beneficial to my understanding of language. It's only a matter of picking up on the communication!

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