10 April 2011

aaaah this language thing!

Today I blogged for Legato, and tied myself up in knots with the English language. Here is the introduction to the post:
Peace - an Uncommon Concept?

A people sacrificed for peaceful principles recover their identity and lead by example even in these troubled times:

So deeply committed to their pacifist beliefs and their covenant of peace, that just over 170 years ago, they deliberately refused to abandon their principles in the face of unwarranted aggression, with horrendous consequences. The last "full-blooded" Moriori died in 1933. The Moriori story and Nunuku's covenant of peace, provides a vital message for today's turbulent world.

Peace is not a new concept in the world, just an uncommon one.

(Source: http://www.education-resources.co.nz/)
Where, oh where, does common usage take over from semantic correctness?

My problem today was using the word "people" as a collective noun. I have opted to leave it as I think it flows best, but deep down is that sneaking suspicion that I have erred, unforgivingly, and ignored the rules of syntax.

And then there was the colon. No, not an irritable bowel type of colon, but the one used in punctuation. In my blog post it began as a full stop, but as the text being quoted was technically not a full sentence a colon seemed to work better. The writer had, either for effect or inadvertently, delayed naming the subject of the sentence until the next sentence by using a pronoun in place of a noun in the introductory sentence to the paragraph.

Yesterday I learned (thanks to the BBC) that Lol (laughing out loud) is now in the dictionary as a word in its own right. I used to shudder in horror at such additions. Now I simply sigh, and appreciate the fact that all those who were mistakenly using it for Lots of Love, often at most inappropriate times, can now "Look it up in the dictionary!"

Language. Love it or hate it. Sometimes, in fact quite often these days, I suspect that I am losing it.

Today I am grateful for contemplation.


Teacake said...

IMHO your use of the colon is correct, because the preceding clause introduces the next idea.

However, I also think that nouns and verbs must agree on number. A (singular) people... recovers its identity and leads...

"Its" is kind of an impersonal sounding pronoun to use for a group of people. You could maybe still use "their", which is now commonly used as a gender-free singular pronoun in the third person anyway.

Both sound kind of wrong to me, but one is (and both may be) right.

All that said, language is a highly creative and evolving tool of communication. Have fun with it!

Teacake said...

Oh, and to answer your question:

Where, oh where, does common usage take over from semantic correctness?

For myself, clarity of meaning is paramount, so knowing your audience and context is important.

Correct grammar usually helps clarify meaning, but common usage can be just as clear and also serves to signal or acknowledge an informal situation.

Kay said...

Yes, in the light of the morning I will correct the likely error that was bothering me yesterday.

I'm glad that you agree about the colon.

Italian uses the semi-colon much more than English does; this forces me to review how I tend to use the comma when I should use a semi-colon. I rarely have cause to use the colon these days.