Thursday, July 26, 2007

for all those times you thought i was lazy...

...well, i am. sorry. i am lazy about quite a few things: cleaning my car, baking those cookies i still have the toffee bits for, getting my dell/paperweight fixed...

however, there is one thing i am not lazy about that may surprise you: grammar.

yes, ladies and gentlemen, my general lack of majuscules (isn't that word grand? i learned it today. it means big letters.) is a conscious choice.

let me explain.

you see, i'm a linguistics major. this makes me a bit of a nerd overall, but more so of one when it comes to language. moreover, i am a former debater, which makes me somewhat of an activist. finally, i am a graduate student in communication, which makes me both pretentious and insane. mix all of these together, and you have...well, me...but also, an interesting approach to language. in specific, one that chooses to avoid capitalization as a form of commentary.

now, i will be the first to admit that when i first began typing on a regular basis i almost undoubtedly "devolved" to a lowercase style because a) it looked cool and b) i was lazy. i'll make no pretense there.

however, once i started thinking about it, i had A Thought. this Thought was interesting to me, and it ran more or less as follows: why do we capitalize the first-person personal pronoun "i" in english, yet not "you" or "he" or "she" or "we" or "they"? isn't that just a bit rude? i looked into it a bit, and found some interesting things, and didn't find something even more interesting. namely, i found that a whole pile of languages such as italian, german, russian, dutch, and written polish tend to capitalize the second-person pronouns in the singular, plural, or both ("you" in english). what i didn't find was any language other than english that capitalizes the first-person pronoun. of course, many religions also capitalize the names of their deities, but capitalizing yourself? that is a special form of egocentrism reserved only for us english speakers.

so, what to do? i found a problem with consistently placing greater importance, linguistically speaking, on myself rather than the people to whom i was speaking. i didn't want to capitalize every person i talked to, because that would either confuse people more or leave out the people whom i wasn't talking to and therefore wasn't capitalizing. so i could capitalize every person ever referred to in my communication, but that is not only unwieldy, unattractive, and difficult to remember (for me), it also is specifically anthrocentric. now i'll be the first to tell you that there are some basic differences between humans and animals that i'm pretty happy about, but i also think that, in some ways, we have a lot of problems in our world right now that stem from a complete disregard for anything other than the human race. so do i capitalize everything that's living? what about the ocean? does that live too? should we respect that as much as we do, say, a cow? what about dead people? i don't know anymore. how about other parts of speech? do adjectives count in any way? brain begins to melt rather swiftly around this point.

so i chose what i felt was a simple and elegant solution: place all symbols and their referents at the same linguistic level, except when needed for the sake of clarity or humor (see above; aren't i hilarious?). and there you have it: my reasoning behind my consistently low-profile typing style.

oh, i also don't really capitalize at the beginning of sentences because a) you generally don't need to, thanks to the magic of punctuation (tm), and b) i think it breaks the flow of the writing. especially in instant messaging, and in my particular style of writing, sentences aren't always complete; forced capitalization gives the sense that they are. this choice is mostly an aesthetic one, however, and not one i really intend to defend very staunchly.

now, i admit that i still use "proper grammar" for assignments, or for writing to people who likely wouldn't understand/appreciate my point of view (or whom i need to impress without sounding like a total nutcase). perhaps that's cowardly of me, but i don't think so. i am firmly of the belief that i can work within a potentially oppressive system and gain credibility therein before slowly beginning to implement my own advocacy; therefore, i should stockpile respect (and good grades) for awhile longer before i start rocking the academic boat. a friend of mine is the sort who always writes "woman" as "womyn", for example, but i find that people just get annoyed and don't take him seriously because he hasn't really gained the credibility to have an alternative voice yet. sure, there are arguments both ways, but i'm not egotistical enough to think that i should run around making all my professors very confused and disgruntled and change their way of understanding papers just because i have had A Thought (see? funny again!). more importantly, i'm not altogether sure i'm right. sapir and whorf were both wanks, and while i think linguistic relativity (hey look, i learned how to close tags) has quite a bit of validity, i could be wrong about this one. yes, it has happened. i'm sorry to disappoint.

if you were curious, this deep level of introspection resulted from my realization that, while i used "proper grammar" when i first starting writing in this blog, i have recently shifted back into my monoplanar comfort zone. i understand that this change may have traumatized you all, likely causing many a sleepless night where you wondered why, dear lord, why. therefore, i felt the need to clarify for your peace of mind, dear readers.

so, there you have it. the rather long, uninteresting story of why my shift keys remain so underutilized.

next time on the pedant's activism hour: expletive constructions - worthy of expletives or no?

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