Who is wrong? Those who stay locked up in the ivory tower of textbook grammar and don’t expose their learners to other variations they’re likely to encounter.
Here’s why, and 10 different examples of real wrong grammar from popular culture.
“Why oh why? Two alternative realities – it sounds like The Matrix! It will only confuse people!” – A staunch grammarian
Well, there are two very important reasons why we should inform learners of how grammar is really used, not only how it should be used:
- Preparing them for the world outside the classroom
During the excellent Bell teacher training course I attended in the summer, I attended a workshop run by Chaz Pugliese, author of Creating Motivation. He argued that by surprising learners with examples of real life grammar, their interest and motivation increase.
He gave us examples backed up by corpus data:
1) 95% of the uses of MUST are deductions, not obligations e.g. You have big bags under your eyes – you must be tired!
2) He examined the top five uses of the word JUST, which might surprise you.
- Just the two of us (excluding)
- Just what the doctor ordered (exactly)
- Just a look (only)
- Just shut up (intensifier)
- Could I just make a suggestion? (politeness)
2. Preparing students for the world outside the classroom
What happens in the coursebook isn’t the same as what happens outside it. Although we might have the responsibility to prepare students for exams that respect the status quo, it’s also our responsibility to prepare students for the English they’ll encounter in everyday life and popular culture. As I wrote in What’s your WHY?, part of my How is by creating realistic and useful lesson content, and this may or may not be grammatically correct according to a dusty textbook.
The dustiest textbook of all is the dictionary, which includes new words on an annual basis; months or years after they’ve become commonplace in everyday life, and grammar rules are even slower to catch up. A.A. Gill summarises this brilliantly in his memoir Pour Me: A Life, which taught me several more lessons other than this:
‘Dictionaries don’t police language, they chase along behind it. Grammar is whatever suits your design and need…it wasn’t made by a committee or a common room or a club, it was built by people like us, millions of them, not in classrooms or halls or palaces or churches, but in streets and fields, in trenches, at sea, in forests and tundras, in jungles and on top of mountains. In shops and stinking laboratories, in barracks and hovels and tents and gibbets and styles, in ditches and over garden walls, in cradles and in dreams. It is the only true, wholly democratic free and limitless thing we all own, it is yours’ – A.A. Gill, Pour Me: A Life.
Real Grammar: The Exhibits
Exhibit A: TV – Little Britain. Vicky Pollard at a counselling session.
1. ‘Like’ as a hesitation device
“She is like well harsh”
2. Double/triple negatives
3. Ain’t = haven’t
“I ain’t never even done nothing“
Exhibit B: Music. Jay Z and Kanye West – No Church in the Wild.
4. Plural vs singular
5. Ain’t = isn’t
Two tattoos, one read “no apologies”
The other said “love is cursed by monogamy”
That’s somethin’ that the pastor don’t preach
That’s somethin’ that a teacher can’t teach
When we die, the money we can’t keep
But we prolly spend it all ’cause the pain ain’t cheap. Preach!
Roll your eyes if you want to, but you could make a whole month of lessons out of this song alone for the older, more open-minded classes. Debating pragmatism vs religious beliefs; the sanctity of marriage; society’s structure (God-king-citizen relationship); syllable counting; monogamy (I’d leave out the drug references). There’s a richness of content and linguistics in rap and hip hop that isn’t often respected.
Exhibit C: Joe Rogan podcast #1021 with Russell Brand
6. Go = say
1.21.15 “My friend Jason Segal, the brilliant actor, goes: ‘You think all that stuff’s about you, the jets, the billboards and stuff. But it’s just the symptoms of other people making money out of you…'”.
7. Relative pronouns
1.23.27 “My mates from the Genesis gym what I’ve already mentioned…”
Exhibit D: Last Chance U (on Netflix – a fly-on-the-wall documentary about a successful American football programme at a Mississippi university)
8. Past participles
Season 1 Episode 5 46.40 “That will get you throwed out the game!”
Season 1 Episode 6 33.30 “More research should have went into it”
9. Past simples
Season 1 Episode 6 23.00 “I won’t have this team’s name drug through the mud”
Exhibit E: McDonald’s
10. Stative verbs
I’m lovin’ it!!? Much has already been written about this, but traditionally LOVE is a STATIVE VERB i.e. not dynamic, so can’t be used in a continuous form.
The problem, apart from a multi-billion dollar chain with about 37,000 restaurants worldwide communicating effectively with it (isn’t communication the #1 rule of language?), is that the coursebooks haven’t caught up to reality. Today, LOVE is not a fixed, everlasting state; it can be fleeting, in the moment, happening in a process. Similar things have happened to other stative verbs, such as need (yes, I’ve been needing to do this blog post for ages!)
Please, please, please, don’t restrict your English teaching to the four walls of the classroom and the pages of the ‘correct’ grammar textbooks. It’s a real life subject, so teach to use it in the correct way, by all means, but learners deserve to be aware of what they might encounter beyond the bubble of the classroom. One thing is using, another is understanding.
Staying blinkered and trying to convince yourself that the grammar book is the be all and end all would mean, I’m afraid, that YOU’RE WRONG on this one. Variety is the spice of life!