Sunday, September 1, 2013

Review: Punctuation..?

I've posted a number of book reviews on this blog, but I think this one is the first I have concrete plans to use in the near future. I was asked to review "Punctuation..?", a short 35-page saddle-stapled book published by User design press. The main definitions for correct usage are taken from the Oxford English Mini Dictionary (can you imagine -- a usage book that actually cites its sources). The book briefly covers usage and suggestions for apostrophes, parentheses, colon and semicolons, dashes, slashes, and more. Each usage description is accompanied by an (often humorous) line drawing referring to or illustrating the usage. One thing I liked about this book is its mostly descriptive attitude. This isn't a prescriptive diatribe about how texting is ruining our punctuation use; it's a light-hearted and well-informed instruction manual for actual English. The errors it discusses are real errors that everyone, native speaker and learner alike, should avoid for the sake of clear writing, not elitist shibboleths for posh hipsters to complain about. Since this is a British publication, some of the terminology might be confusing for American audiences (though I would guess that most people are familiar with the main differences across the pond: period vs. full stop, single vs. double quotation marks). The only difference that would introduce a genuine error for American writers would be the claim that we should not use a period after abbreviations like Mrs., Mr., and Dr. (where in America we obligatorily do use a period in such cases). Other than this all the advice is applicable for American as well as British audiences, modulo terminological differences. As an erstwhile teacher of English as a Second Language, I definitely plan to use ideas and usage suggestions from this text in the classroom. Not only is the advice clearly presented and playfully executed, but also great attention is paid to proper typesetting. I would guess that most anyone who has occasion to write/type in English would fine use for the section delineating the typographical and usage differences between the hyphen, en dash, and em dash. The comma usage section, also, should prove useful to anyone teaching writing. While some of the advice is too simplistic (we use commas to join any two independent clauses separated by a coordinating conjunction, not just ones with a change in subject), there's a lot of information packed into this very short and eminently readable book.


Anonymous said...

question: obsessed with linguistics since 5 y/o. cruel joke on me- language based LD, but amassed much info. problems with phonemic awareness i think. (went into another science.) Not the point though. moved to a part of the country.. i call the vortex of the destruction of our lang. as we know it. always tried to not be judgmental about how people speak- language changes- but this is strange, question is what is it? (I have no room to speak, talk(?), roll over?), malapropisms, near-malapropisms, neologisms,,, ??? words: "scruffle," "grand reaper," "obeast,", "prevernitions," "Protruded" = proceded, "deliquished," = relinquished, "Things out of perception," (perspective), "fixtuatuate," =fixate; "stopped fascinating on the numbers"= GOK???, focusing on the numbers?, "getting her to do anything is a triumph,"= a battle; "misologic," =mythologic; "goundation,"= being grounded. I encounter these often in the hinterlands of the country, recurrent uses. One that makes some sense is "ova" = every. A small part of what I do is assess the speech of children, which is amazing. They don't say these things. can you explain this in terms of language evolution? are these people who are just not reading? they use standard nonstandard American English, such as "ain't" and double negatives. I don't see the phonemic changes... maybe the wrong word, such as changing fricatives f/v.. I don't remember what to call those changes. I don't hear these people having a reduction in use or understanding of complex syntax, clausal strategies. In the "large" city I live near the average IQ is >1 SD, closer to 2 below the mean. It doesn't appear to be test bias. Drift? Rampant drug abuse, in utero exposure? but they don't use these words. Maybe critical mass has something to do with the rural areas. I want to say although i did not achieve my life long dream of becoming a linguist I am quite fluent in Valleygirl, being "there" at it's inception and place of birth. I would so appreciate input to this "phenomenon." (I think the period comes before the ", spatially seems correct and I was taught that way. I can't spell. (anonymous due to my work) Cindy R

Ryan Denzer-King said...

Your idea about not reading probably has at least some truth to it. This is how dialects are formed, after all -- isolation. Unwritten languages change more easily and faster, and thus in a community without access to education you might expect to see more nonstandard forms standardized as the local dialect.