The way language is used, rather than the ideas it is being used to express, is rarely problem-free. Whether it’s a mis-translation, the overuse of certain words (anyone else fed up with just about everything being described as ‘iconic’?), apostrophes appearing where they don’t belong, and disappearing from places where they so obviously do, language has a knack of annoying people. And that’s before I even begin on words which have changed their meaning over time.
As a language teacher I feel stuck in the middle, not wanting to be too prescriptive and dogmatic about how language should be used, whilst at the same time thinking ‘well, it’s not that difficult to understand how apostrophes are used…’ When I’m proofreading I shake my head in disbelief at how the misuse of commas can make a text almost impossible to understand. When I’m teaching I throw up my hands in horror at coursebook writers who think two pages of dull exercises will solve all the punctuation issues of our students. And almost without fail, I end up thinking…I wish they would read more.
Reading doesn’t just provide people with information and ideas. The way a writer uses language will have an influence on the reader. It will help reinforce language patterns and vocabulary. It provides a template which we – often subconsciously – adopt as our own. So I would definitely advise anyone learning a language, or developing their own language skills, for example in essay writing, to read as widely as possible, as often as possible.
And in case that advice isn’t controversial enough, you can read about some other well-known (and a few lesser-known) linguistic battles here. Happy reading!