The Decline of BA

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: The Decline of BA
From: David Adams <>
Date: Mon, 11 Jan 2016 22:43:07 +0000
I'm going to offer a counter-view on the "proper grammar" subject and want
to say right up front that I'm not harshing on anyone specifically. This is
an issue mailing lists often face. Hopefully, I'm not trolling here and I
don't want to start a fight with anyone! I just have a different point of
view since 1) I always found writing in English hard, 2) I grew up with a
different version of "proper" English, 3) I've spent my adult life
surrounded by people that aren't native English speakers, and 4)
turns out that "proper" is a social construct with a lot of racist/classist
baggage and it has nothing at all to do with linguistics.  Hmm. Does sound
like a rant...not my point. Anyway, a couple of details below - but the
main point is "do you want your mailing list to be more inclusive or to
discourage people from posting?" I vote for "inclusive", and this list
often is. I've noticed over the years that people on this list are
typically *incredibly kind* to new birders that make "obvious" mistakes.
How fine is that? When you're new, encouragement goes a long way...and so
does criticism (even if accurate.) Anyway, a couple of other points below
for anyone that cares.

"Proper grammar" is a pretty loaded term, as it turns out. (My wife studied
linguistics in uni and opened my eyes to it quite a bit.) Quite an
interesting history there too tied up in class and regional relations.
Anyway, this isn't the place for that conversation.

The problem of "correcting" grammatical/syntactic/mechanics errors on
general mailing lists is that it *greatly discourages people from posting.*
Which people? People that aren't great at mechanics for one reason or

* Perhaps they're writing English as a second or third language. Why
wouldn't we want to hear from them because of that?

* They've got some variant of dsylexia or another neurological wrinkle that
makes "proper English" harder to produce. (Recommended: I just finished
Steve Silberman's "Neurotribes" - heartbreaking, fascinating, and
encouraging all at the same time. And beautifully written.)

* As a note: English spelling isn't rational, unlike Italian or Spanish,
for example. Also, the "correct" forms for a lot of things are regional.
There isn't one, standard form of English, there are lots of them. Apart
from regions, "proper" depends on context. The birding list used by folks
in the Monterey Bay area of California put species in all caps like
CALIFORNIA CONDOR or SAYS PHOEBE. Why? Because on a plain-text message, it
makes the name pop out. All caps are less readable but when that's all
you've got for emphasis, it kind of works. If I think about it and struggle
a bit I can try to do it the "right" way like "Fatty-spotted Chiffchaff"
instead of "Fatty-Spotted Chiffchaff"...but I have to think about it...and
how much better does it make the conversation? It doesn't. I can also
remember that the correct way to capitalize a binomial is Merops apiaster,
not Merops Apiaster. That I tend to get right because if you're in a
context where people are using binomials in the first place, you're
probably dealing with people that do it the standard way all of the time.

People can choose to get as picky as they like about diction and mechanics,
and there's a place for it. If I were in a masters program, I'd be expected
to say "the data are clear." In the rest of the world, that just sounds
incredibly pretentious. (I do say "genera" just because I find "genuses"
hard to say and unclear how to spell.) Since this is a general-purpose,
open and public mailing list, I don't think that academic standards apply.
The data is clear on this ;-)

Anyway, we all have out pet peeves and if anyone has "sloppy" writing on
their list, fair enough. I'll never talk them out of it...and I've got my
own set of errors that I think are too much. Put another way, I'm just at a
different spot on the same continuum so I can't claim to be "right" - I'm
just taking a different position. I guess my only possible worthwhile point
is that before calling someone out on a mechanics error that *does not make
their message unclear*, think if you really want to discourage that person
from posting in the future. Also, they may not take your well-intentioned
remarks as such and unfairly conclude that they don't like you and then
become less willing to read or get value from your posts.
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