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Diversity, power, and Grammar Nazis


Grammar Nazis, or Prescriptive Ideologues, in the wet soggy euphemistic idiom of today, are more concerned about power and demonstrating dominance than “Grammar”, and would not understand even a single paragraph of a reference grammar once into the meat of the book.

Defenders of Morality or Jerks

The Grammar Nazi is usually unaware of their drive to dominate and many would be horrified to realise their true motivation. Grammar Nazis tend to see themselves as upholders of traditional values and preservers of an Ur-Language from a golden age, a language and age that may never have existed, rather than privileged users of a dominant dialect, and as a bulwark against moral decay. In reality their correct grammar results, according to Steven Pinker, from the application of Latin grammar to 18th century London English at the time the British Empire was created.

Or they might just be jerks.

...extraverts were generally much more likely to overlook both grammar mix ups and typos, whereas introverts were more likely to judge the applicants negatively because of them.

And people who tested as being more conscientious but less open were more sensitive to typos, while those with less agreeable personalities got more upset by grammatical errors.

"Perhaps because less agreeable people are less tolerant of deviations from convention,

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Farmer, By Wang Liang

Farmer, By Wang Liang

Language and Power

In Signs of Civilisation Bård Borch Michalsen notes that Jennifer De Vere Brody, in her book Punctuation: Art, Politics, and Play argued that those with the strongest military determine how the language is written, hence the western idea of a phonetic alphabet as superior with punctuation being a postcolonial export to many Asian countries.

Under Represented Voices Must Conform

Any would be creative writer will have noticed publications that call for submissions “from disadvantaged and under represented voices”. The word “submission” itself indicates where the balance of power is seen to lie, just as “application” does when seeking employment.

When you start seeing the pragmatics of language in terms of power relations this kind of thing is hard to miss.

If the writing is in Jamaican patois, it will not be published, if it is in Geordie it will not be published, if it is in Taglish (Filipino English) it will not be published, if it is in Indian English it will not be published. Vernacular English is allowed to a limited extent in the mouths of characters but not the voice of the author. Many will shy away from language they hear every day for fear of upsetting those readers who, regardless of biological gender and age can be thought of as prim little old ladies with a sheltered upbringing.

To me this looks like colonisation, even allowing for the fact that publishers and editors want to ensure their product is understandable by their core market. It looks like the call is for diverse voices that are just like us, that are or have become just like us, in the way an Edinburgh brogue became acceptable in radio advertisements when it was perceived as connoting honesty, while Glaswegian and Geordie are still not accepted. Likewise Dublin English is acceptable but not the dialect of Cork.


The call for work from underrepresented voices is not an opportunity for those people to be represented, it is a call for them to become like the dominant sectors of society. Just as the Raj accepted only anglicised Indians only the assimilated diverse voices will be published. The elites lose nothing and gain a lot, both in kudos and in replacing the diverse voices of the great unwashed with themselves.

The call for diversity, and dedicated funds for promoting diversity, comes from what Amy Fung describes as an overwhelmingly ableist and Western Eurocentric cultural imaginary. The problem is not limited to the creative writer, but visual arts and music are less affected by the unconscious biases of the gatekeepers and pursekeepers

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 AlexK2009

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