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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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New Essay

Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more


The War on Grammar

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The editor of the Cambridge Grammar of English was on the radio today, defending the controversial stance of the new edition of the style guide, which says that rules of grammar are less important than clear communication. It argues that if the reader or listener's understanding is not compromised, then "good" grammar has been used, a stance I am inclined to agree with since, as I have argued in an essay on this site, we rarely realise just how much abuse our language can take and still allow our message to get across.

However, the editor also said, as I did in that essay, that we must recognise that language works not just by what we say, but also how we say it. Consequently, saying something with sloppy disregard to regular rules in a conversation with friends (probably scattering the word "like" liberally throughout as well) is fine. However, in a formal essay, no matter how well-researched it may be, if the writer cannot use language in a controlled and orthodox way, I am less likely to be persuaded by his arguments. Thus it was with some amusement that on the day I heard the radio programme, I received a letter from the Home Office, responding to a letter I had sent to them through Amnesty International, regarding the trials (or lack of) of terrorist suspects. In the page-long response, I counted five basic errors of grammar or style, including several Governments lacking apostrophes, and the obfuscatory sentence, "It is not our policy to discuss individual cases and that the majority of those who have been detained for national security reasons are the subject of court orders made by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission under the Contempt of Court Act." Needless to say, that the press office at the Home Office cannot write correctly is hardly the least of my worries about the way our government has acted in the "War on Terror," but this evidence certainly does little to modify my opinions.

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Posted by Alistair at 4:45 pm

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