Thursday, January 21, 2010

She Bop

In a lecture that I attended today given by Professor Emeritus Sandra McKay, a sociolinguist from San Francisco State University, she discussed some of the implications that English becoming the paramount global language might have for teachers of English in places like Singapore. One focus of this discussion was on the sort of feedback that teachers should be giving developing student writers in light of contemporary " sociolinguistic theory" that posits that all varieties of English have legitimacy.

Generally, according to McKay, one important issue is this: It is easy to see that new lexical items (think new base verb forms, for instance, "to google" and "to sms") appear then quickly gain global acceptance and legitimacy. Similar innovations in grammar may develop, such as the way that people worldwide who use English as a second language (and the number of these far outnumbers that for whom it is the first language) often drop the "s" on simple present verb forms in the third person singular: she bops >>> she bop. However, acceptance of such a change in grammar is very slow to develop. In fact, many teachers would consider this an "error" and would make mention of it in feedback to the student.

The question sequence then is this: What should a writing teacher do when encountering such a "drop" of the "s"? Should he or she (we!) accept this drop, seeing it as legitimate, or not?

Let's add a very real context to this: What should I do if and when I encounter an occurrence like the following in a student's blog writing?

I write like this and she write like that. 

I can give McKay's view, but I'd like to hear yours first.  Please give me your opinion and explain why you feel that way.


Kenny Mok said...

Well, this is really a tough call. On one hand, be it with or without the "s", the message decoded by the receiver is more or less going to be the same. No one is going to interpret differently between "He write" and "He writes". So, I guess the question boils down to the context where this "error" was actually made. For example, in an English essay examination setting, I am quite sure that there are bound to be guidelines to penalize accordingly for grammatical errors made and thus, this is where using "He write" will cause some marks to be deducted. Now, back to deciding for our blog assignments, I am just thinking maybe there is really a component for allocating marks base on grammar accuracy. However, it shouldn't be posing much problem for us as the many other crucial factors like content , delivery, etc. should be able to balance things up.

Rohan Rajiv said...

It depends on the purpose of an essay/blog..

If the purpose is

1) To Communicate - i.e. via sms where what matters is that the message gets through, then it is fine..

2) To Learn/To communicate professionally - definitely not! It doesn't make sense playing tennis with a table tennis bat even if it is my 2nd game. Some things have to be done right..

I guess blogs for modules would come under professional communication..

Just my $0.02 :)

Keerthani said...

Personally, I feel that we shouldn't accept the drop in the "s", as I don't think it is right. I don't see how the acceptance of new lexical items can be likened to the acceptance of change (or deterioration) in grammar. Well, this is just my opinion.

Jake Nguyen Thanh Long said...

Hi Brad,

How have you been? I am still fine with NUS' treating.

Your post makes me think of the change in the language use for people to more easily adapt it rather than makes me feel what is correct and what is wrong.

The change would be acccepted if it has a positive impacts to the majority of people. For example, if "drop the 's'" caused the number of the world's population who speak English increase, why shouldn't we acccept it?

Just now, your post also recall me of a similar problem happening several year ago with some Magazines and Newspapers in Vietnam. They tended to write proper names like HoChiMinh instead of Ho Chi Minh or Saigon instead of Sai Gon. The reason for such a thing is to save paper because they reduced quite a lof of space in their articles. The change has not been accepted by some authorities although in some electronic newspapers do people still keep this new habit.

Hope my comment is contributing your discussion here. :)


kellyn neo said...

hi brad this is my first comment!!!

i was reading your blog posts and i decided to comment on this one since i felt it was something quite close to my heart.

i grew up in a family in which english is the first language and to a certain extent, the only language since my parents are really bad at chinese hahah.

when i was growing up, my mom would often correct our english whether in public or not and it became a habit for me to naturally correct my friends' common grammar mistakes as well, much to their irritation actually.

i wouldn't say my english is perfect but i guess when it comes to writing, i write better than i speak.

which is my point actually. because singlish is so commonly spoken today, we tend to write the way we speak. and this causes the tendency to make errors as the ones you mentioned.

thus i feel that yes, you should correct their english on the blog. i guess errors would happen more often in blogs since there's no grammar/spell check, which is what most of us would depend on for error-free english in our presentations and reports.

that said, maybe we should all start correcting each other's english in class! if it would help! =)

Jude Too Soon Yee said...

I feel that it would be an error left unchecked. Why so? I have two reasons. ONe reasons is the uncertainty. Perhaps the drop of the s was legitimate. When someone writes, they have to have an audience so he could have really meant it to be a 3rd person singular. Since the error is debatable, I would suggest leaving it alone in case it becomes a source of unhappiness.
Second reason is pragmatism. Even though blogging can be considered professional in the case of this course, the drop of the s is not a major error. A guideline that many people follow is to add the word and then remove it to see if the meaning changes. If the drop of the s does not change the general meaning of that sentence, it is not neccessary to correct the error.
Anyway, I have a slightly warped logic. If everyone agrees to the one with the s, then that one is the correct one. It just has to be socially acceptable and understandable. That is a key aim of communication after all, to understand and be understood.

C_and_A said...


My opinion is somewhat similar to Rohan's. I feel the use of proper language may not be that important when it comes to bring across messages to people, as long as it is understandable, but there should be a certain standard to be adhered to when it comes to professional communications.

In addition to the above point, I think that English teachers should continue to adhere to the standard and advise students accordingly, at least until it is completely obvious that the new lexical items and innovative grammar is more common than the old standard.

Deenise said...

First of all, what is the purpose of adding a letter ‘s’ after a verb? Such grammar rules serve important purposes to indicate certain information about the word or sentences. To avoid confusion, it is best to follow one rule.

It is also interesting to note that in the French grammar, for instance, when such new innovations in grammar are introduce, the French Academy (an institute which have authority over the use of French Language) usually accepts both rules as long as the sentences sounded pleasant when spoken. As such, there are quite a number of complexities and confusions arise. Also, due to the acceptance of these new grammatical rules, French language teachers often to constantly keep up-to-date with the current rules. Are we prepared for such a change? Once such a change is introduced, more of such ideas which suggest a change in grammar rules would come. This is certainly going to cause a transformation in the English language which is so widely-used in the world today. Dropping the ‘s’ from the word “she bops” is certainly going to cause the world to ‘bop’ up and down.

Iris Chan said...

For purpose of education, the student should be corrected to what is accepted of Standard English. I agree with Kenny that there shouldn't be problem with understanding the writer, but where does this put our grammar rules? (Oh please don't tell me rules are meant to be broken...)

As far as I know it is correct, in Northern English dialects, to say "I writes like this and she write like that". But this is not the case here. I don't think it is 100% accurate to say we are native speakers and we certainly ain't developing a new English dialect. So, follow the rules!

In general, classes teaching second languages usually start with vocabulary AND basic sets of rules governing syntax: how to build an apprehensible sentence. We need to know what is right to know the wrong. And when it is wrong..., it IS WRONG!

To me, teach = rules. Do whatever you want outside class.

Brad Blackstone said...

Thanks to each of you for the very thoughtful responses. I'll be discussing this issue in class. At that time I'll try to address some of your insightful commentary.

Godwin said...

An interesting question. Personally, during an exam, I definitely will not mind the markers to just ignore that error! However, I honestly think that we should not accept such errors. I totally agree that such small errors do not distort the message and most people will still be able to understand the grammatically flawed message. On the other hand, since it is such a small error, why can’t we make a conscious effort to correct it? It might be a little difficult in the beginning to make such changes but I guess with more time, writing a grammatically correct article will be a breeze. Everything comes with practice. Bad habits are hard to break but nonetheless we should try to do the right thing.

Kian Leong said...

The drop of the "s" from "she bops" is definitely grammatically incorrect. I would agree that correcting the student would be appropriate.

Since this is a course on professional communication, being mindful of the grammar to the best of one's ability would be the least one could do. That said, I have to admit my command of the English language is quite average, so pardon me for any grammatical errors.

Back to the issue discussed, I think besides correcting the student, perhaps we also need to highlight the importance of an appreciation of the language in the context of professional communication. The appreciation will at least show respect towards the language as a means of communication.

Appreciation can possibly be shown by speaking full sentences in that particular language while being mindful of the grammar. By respecting the language, we will eventually take a conscious effort to correct our grammar as we respect its existence for communication. But we have to recognize the fact not everyone does it right the first time. Like what Godwin said, "everthing comes with practice."

Perhaps correcting of grammar should come across as reminders. Probably not everyone of us (including me) is well-versed with the use of English language, but with reminders from the experienced people and conscious effort on our (students) part, I believe ultimately everyone will know that "she bops".

Daniel Loke said...

Hey Brad,

I never fail to be interested and amused by language usage issues, and I am glad that I have had the chance of re-visiting grammar and sentence structure rules in your class.

My quick thoughts are that the 's' should not be dropped. There are many "sub-cultures" in English all over the world, and two that we may be familiar with would be "SMS English" and "Singlish". I would say that in situations where we are to use English, we stick to English in its whole essence.

If nt then it wld be awful if all our assgnmnt n blogs read lk tt. I do see the color in Singlish and appreciate its local flavor, but I feel that we must use proper language rules when we are communicating in a professional context.

On the other hand, there are many Singaporeans who use the 's' and 'ed' much too often when it is not needed. For example, I writes the blog posts and my classmates comments on its. Should we then accept this rule? Oh, shes bops!

I love to appreciate English in its pure form and in a form that can be understood by all. Cheers, to no 's'.

Stephanie said...


This is interesting! As a student, I would still say that we need to follow the basic English Grammar. It is not very logical to compromise the conventional way of writing and speaking in the name of technological advancement these days which lead to such terms.

Moreover, it would be confusing, i.e. when is it right to omit the 's' in the verb when we are referring to a singular noun? Haha, I would not want to be tied down to memorise those list of words! This would be dreadful!

Having said that, I am not objecting the use of such words provided that they are grammatically correct. I use them myself too. Eg: I facebook everyday.

That's all from me! =)

Brad Blackstone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brad Blackstone said...

Thanks to one and all for commenting.

Some seem to be mixing issues here though. One issue is accepting changes to the "standard" grammar, the other is accepting new words, or adding to the lexicon.

Words are constantly being added to any language. In English, words like television, automobile, airplane, microwave oven and atomic bomb are all recent additions to English, appearing along with technological innovations.

So to add nouns like computer and gigabyte or SMS and profile pic, or to accept new verbs such "to text" or "to beta" should not be difficult.

What my post wondered about was to what extent we should accept changes in grammar, for instance, the dropping of the "s" on the 3rd person singular of verbs, simply because of common usage.

If you use a word that has entered the language recently, there is very little controversy there. If, in contrast, you write as you speak, and in doing so use a grammatical form that is common in speaking but not in writing, there is more to debate.

Sheila Koh said...

Hi Brad,

In my opinion, we should stick to she bops. Personally, i see language as an inheritance which is passed down by our ancestors to us. I know it sounds a little weird and doesn't make sense, but to me, grammar in English language is equivalent to the identity of English language itself!

This is because not all languages have grammar. Take Indonesian for example. I buy translates to "saya membeli" and she buys translates to "dia membeli".
Both are still "membeli", there is no "s", no past form, nothing. But in English, we have buy, buy, bought. In a way, I see this as something that distinguish English language. I am not saying that Indonesian language is not unique, but I just somehow feel that English has its plus point in terms of uniqueness.

Even so, it is perfectly alright for me if people ignore grammar in a non-formal setting.

Just a 2 cents from someone to whom English is a second language. =)

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