Monday, July 13, 2009

Ayn Rand on Grammar

Ms. Rand believed grammar was important, very important -- I'd say, an essential part of reasoning, and therefore, I'd add, of being objective and practicing the Objectivist virtues.

Read these excerpts (from pp. 99-104 of The Art of Nonfiction by Ayn Rand, ed. Robert Mayhew, a Plume Book, Penguin Publishers, (c) Estate of Ayn Rand, 2001), think about what Peikoff's OPAR says, and see if you agree with my claims:
One of the most important applications of the Objectivist attitude toward reason is grammar. The ability to think precisely, and thus to write precisely, cannot be achieved without observing grammatical rules.

Grammar has the same purpose as concepts. The rules of grammar are rules for using concepts precisely. ... The grammar of all language tells us how to organize our concepts so as to make them communicate a specific, unequivocal meaning.
...
[B]y the time you reach college, you should realize how important [grammatical] rules are. Therefore, if you know why we should fight for reason, and for the right view of concepts, then let us -- on the same grounds -- have a crusade for grammar.
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The difficulty here is that most of you today [meaning most Americans in 1969...and therefore, I'm sure, a fortiori to Americans today. (See Ms. Rand's comments on p. 99.) -- MG] are so used to a subjective shorthand that you lose the distinction between your own inner context and an objective statement.
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If you have forgotten your grade school lessons, get a good primer on grammar -- preferably an old one -- and revive your knowledge. You will be surprised how much more important it appears to you now than it did when you were a child.
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If you want to express your ideas, particularly ideas based on Objectivism, learn clarity -- and that means concepts, grammar, punctuation.
We should study writing and grammar each for our own selfish interests, but if we are going to engage in activism, there is all the more reason to master writing and grammar.

Here are some recommended books:

The Art of Nonfiction

Writing and Thinking by Foerster and Steadman

Rex Barks by Phyllis Davenport (sentence diagramming)

A Dictionary of Modern English Usage by H.W. Fowler (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926) -- recommended by Ms. Rand in Art of Nonfiction; Mr. Mayhew says to avoid the third edition. Wikipedia has information on the book and its editions.

You can also find some of these books on Amazon.com or Abebooks.com. I know Fowler's Dictionary is on Abe -- I just purchased four copies.

Forgot to mention and recommend Principles of Grammar by Dr. Leonard Peikoff!!