During my recent attempt to relearn French for the thousandth time, this time on Duolingo, it struck me that the hardest part of learning another language isn’t memorizing new words for different concepts, but learning the often strange and confusing syntax of a new language. The simple (from my point of view) English phrase “I’m not sure I liked his idea” is expressed in French using words that literally translate to “I not am not sure of to have like his idea.”
All of the extra words seem so unnecessary, yet as a former ESL tutor, I know that many parts of English grammar seem equally bizarre to people who are not native speakers. Even among native speakers, there are many arbitrary grammatical rules that we must learn as students writing academic papers, and as a copy editor for The Daily Californian, I have had to learn many peculiar new rules as well.
This was the hardest part of learning how to copy edit. Every one of us that were hired here know how to spot true grammatical errors, but most of us didn’t come in with knowledge of AP style, or specifically Daily Cal style. Among other things, the Daily Cal does not use the Oxford comma, and we always use “more than” and “about” rather than “over” or “around” when talking about numbers.
Before working for the Daily Cal, I was an ardent supporter of the Oxford comma. It seemed so essential to me to differentiate between items in a list. I was heartbroken when I read the Daily Cal style guide for the first time and saw that I would have to become an active annihilator of the Oxford comma for other people’s writing.
Over time, however, I became so used to eliminating the Oxford comma in the Daily Cal office that I (cringe) began to remove it in my own essays. My current logic behind this change is that since I would say “eggs and bacon”, for example, and not “eggs, and bacon”, it looks more syntactically harmonious to say “coffee, eggs and bacon” rather than to include an extra comma. The simplicity of AP/DC style has begun to win me over.
This got me to thinking about how many other parts of our grammar are technically not necessary to the understanding of words. For example, why do we use articles (the, an, etc.) in English when in Mandarin they have none at all? Obviously, if it is possible for one language to exist without any articles than they aren’t crucial for any language. Likewise, we don’t have grammatical gender like many languages do, so gender clearly isn’t a required component of language either. Yet to go rogue and stop using any articles would most likely not go over well with many English speakers.
As a copy editor, there is a determined set of rules that I have to follow. In my own writing, it is on me to choose which rules I want to apply. Subscribing to a certain set of rules may differentiate you in a positive way or carry certain stigmas with it, depending on who your audience is. Personally, I always try to skate the fine line between using grammar that makes a sentence sound good to me while also keeping things clear, concise and to the point. I’m not too concerned with preserving archaic grammatical rules religiously, but I also want my writing to be readable and understandable to as many people as possible. I hope the Oxford comma can forgive me.