Tracker Pixel for Entry

Write This Way

by Dr. Elizabeth Nawrot | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Live and Learn | December 10th, 2015

I’m seeing red. It’s no coincidence this is the color of ink generations of teachers have used when correcting papers. I may not be an English teacher, but the slow, torturous suffering of the written word is enough to make me bristle. My note in the margin, “which is used for dependent clauses and does not begin a new sentence,” written in jaunty purple ink just doesn’t express the necessary gravitas.

Perhaps I’m being nitpicky. If lyrics from the preset channels on my teenager’s car radio are any indication, my language sensibilities went extinct with the dinosaurs. Perhaps I should embrace the linguistic diversity of our ever-evolving lexicon? Was Geoffrey Pullman right in his English Todayarticle calling the Strunk and White’s classic “Elements of Style” an “error-stuffed, time-wasting, unkillable zombie of a book”? I have been in academia for more than 30 years so my view from the top of the Ivory Tower might be cloudy. Does anyone really care about grammar anymore, or am I just keeping Bic in business?

Of course students are concerned with getting the skills that get them the jobs, particularly those jobs in emerging areas such as technology, business and global affairs. But higher education is more than just job training; no matter what the major, the emphasis is on developing skills like critical thinking, communicating and problem solving. These so-called soft skills are in demand in the workplace every bit as much as the technical skills. According to a recent report at CNBC.com, “Communication skills ranked as the most or second-most desired baseline skill in all industries … Organizational skills and writing abilities were also in high demand across the board”.

When it comes to writing, students are often frustrated by what is the “right” way to write? It seems that each professor wants something different: short answers, long essays, abstracts, lab reports or term papers, and the forms are almost as endless as the citations styles (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.). And just when you’ve figured out how to write for one professor, the class ends and you have to learn a new form for another class, like you’re writing some kind of discourse decathlon. A childhood spent with a handful of years in “grammar” school is not enough to master the linguistic vicissitudes of the college classroom, or the “real world” for that matter. Pioneering novelist Gertrude Stein recognized that “writing for the normal person is too complicated an activity to be indulged in automatically.”

But practicing a variety of written forms is the key to mastering function, and the function of language is communication. Being able to express yourself and communicate ideas across a wide range of disciplines, audiences and styles is key. And of course this is why skilled writing is such a valued commodity, in and out of academia. Learning the rules of successful and effective writing goes well beyond diagramming sentences. MIT linguist turned activist Noam Chomsky says that language, “for all it’s open endedness, it’s not a free for all, it obeys rules and patterns.”

OK, so if you’re Gertrude Stein you can be forgiven for bending the rules. But even her famously nonsensical quote, “There is no there there,” is grammatically correct (she didn’t write, “Their is no there they’re”). Adherence to the rules of grammar even allows us to make some sense of the very strange poem in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass” that begins, “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe.” Elbow deep in red ink-stained term papers, I can sympathize with Alice. And when the grammacide is more than I can take, I turn to the classics. Wasn’t it Keats who wrote:

When old age shall this generation waste,

Thou shalt remain, O Grammarly.com! O Online Writing Lab!

Who say’st unto you, replace that period with a comma,

For a dependent clause is not a sentence.

That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

[Editor’s note: Dr. Nawrot is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Child Development Lab at MSUM. She earned a Masters degree and a Ph.D. from the University of California Berkeley, and has been working on her M.r.s. and M.o.M. degrees for over 20 years.]

RECENTLY IN

Live and Learn

Tracker Pixel for Entry Aaland Law Firm

Recently in:

BISMARCK – When Kyle Thompson decided to speak out against tactics used along the Dakota Access Pipeline, it wasn’t because of a change of heart.“I’ve always tried to look out for the best interests of everyone,” said…

Photos by Raul GomezLast Sunday we had our annual Best of the Best awards ceremony at The Plains Art Museum. we don’t mean to brag but we’re the area’s longest­-running media poll, meaning we’ve been relying on you -- our…

July 24-27, 1pmMake Room, 806½ Main Ave, Fargo4-day arts-intensive camp! Water has qualities of impermanence, imperfection, and fluidity, all fantastic areas of practice for growing artists. Art Camp will include a wide variety of…

"No, not rich. I am a poor man with money, which is not the same thing."-Gabriel Garcia MarquezThis idea is something that has been gnawing at me for awhile, but I don't know where to express these thoughts or how to communicate…

Three “great leaders” who might really screw up the worldIf you have had a chance to watch documentaries based on North Korean culture you had to notice that all citizens referred to 33-year-old Kim Jong Un as their “Great…

The moment of truth has arrived. After seven weeks of sampling and judging some of the finest libations in the area the results for this year’s Cocktail Showdown have arrived. Christopher Larson, Raul Gomez and Sabrina Hornung…

On a sultry Thursday night, I sauntered into Luna. Situated on South University next to Bernie’s Beer and Wine, it isn’t exactly a hole in the wall, but it is certainly off the beaten path, and as described by their motto it is…

The High Plains Reader had the opportunity to chat with Goo Goo Dolls Bassist Robby Takac about their origins, their ever evolving sound, and the impact of “Iris.”High Plains Reader: You grew up in Buffalo New York. What was…

Fourteen years ago this month, entertainment icon Bob Hope died at age 100. Born in 1903, Hope performed in vaudeville and theatre in the 1920s and 30s, moved into radio and films in the 1930s, and by the 1940s was a major movie…

Shane Balkowitsch was nervous. He squatted under an inky shroud, gazing ahead above the rim of his eyeglasses. In front of him, hoisted on a modern tripod, was his accordion camera with its intense red bellows. Only steps away…

Summer Arts Intensive performs main stage musicalUnder the summer sun, something’s begun, taking over those summer nights. The 1978 movie and musical hit Grease is taking stage as part of the Summer Arts Intensive in West Fargo.…

Humor

​Talking to strangers

by Sabrina Hornung

“I don’t have a tour, like, on the back of a sweatshirt,” comedian Paula Poundstone says. “I go out every weekend. This weekend I went out Friday, Saturday and Monday. Mostly it’s Friday/Saturday or Thursday through…

The Red River Zoo is inviting adults to gather their friends and tap into your wild side for one special night of fundraising. Zoo Brew is back again at 7pm on Thursday evening, July 27th, and with even more beer to sample than…

Wellness

​Natural sleep aids

by Erin Oberlander

As I interact with clients and friends and family alike, one of the issues that comes up commonly is that of sleep. It seems that in our modern world, getting deep, nourishing sleep has become a challenge for some and a complete…

Live and Learn

​The other shoe

by HPR Contributor

By Elizabeth Nawrotnawrot@mnstate.eduI look up from my hotel lobby breakfast astonished to see a framed print of Wassily Kandinsky's "Mit und Gegen,” a masterpiece of color and composition that just happens to be my favorite…

“…the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” – Milan Kundera“It may seem kind of bleak to say that the future of our planet rests in large part on the consciences of Republican…