Are writers overly precious about grammar, spelling and punctuation? What do our readers expect when they pick up our books?
I got to thinking about this the other day after reading an email from some Russian friends who have a moderate grasp of English - written and spoken. In this email they commented that they were very concerned about getting the grammar and punctuation correct. I have to say it was the most correctly written email, letter, even book, I've read in a long time, probably ever since high school English classes.
But I guess that when anyone learns a foreign language they are taught the purest form. I remember my French teacher arguing with a pupil from French Tahiti about his apparently incorrect use of his own language.
Texting gets a lot of blame for incorrect use of language. Teachers talk about papers handed in that are written in text language. But I've received letters from my lawyer, accountant, and doctor, all containing errors. These are people I, rightly or wrongly, expect to understand English. Is language as we "older" people know it changing, or are people getting lazy? And does it matter?
Sometimes it is just as simple as countries using the same language differently. Take the proofs I receive for my books. The story is first proofed in America before coming to me for a final once over. Americans use loads more commas than we do and so my proof reader pops them in as she believes the story needs them. I take them out as I believe the commas have changed my meaning of the sentence involved. Then the proofs go back to my English editor who, sometimes, has another crack at making the grammatical presentation perfect.
But does any of this matter? It is the story people are wanting. Isn't it? Or have I got it all wrong? There are plenty of books out there to help us. The Elements of Style being my favourite. Strunk and White are definitely not responsible for the many mistakes I still make.
What do you think? Do we need perfect grammar and punctuation, or have we moved on from that?