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The Great Grammar Conspiracy and Me

Updated: Jul 10, 2022

When discussing conspiracies, I often speculate on the extraordinary number of people who would have to be in on them, and consequently always feel somewhat left out. Until, that is, during a recent discussion with a chemtrailer, a conspiracy encompassing, amongst others: pilots, ground crew, air traffic control, meteorologists, environmental scientists, and a variety of engineers; a complete non-sequitur put me and my English teaching colleagues firmly and finally in the ranks of the “them”, l'chaim!

You think they would tell you truth? They've not even taught you everything about grammar. You was only taught 30% of grammar. To purposely keep us illiterate while putting the rest in plane sight and using it to extort the people.

Grammar, according to legendary linguist David Crystal, has, in the common view, become an arcane and abstruse practice, mastered by but a handful of adepts. Many native English speakers, he continues, claim to have absolutely no understanding of grammar, and that foreign language learners know English grammar better than they, and yet these feelings of failure and linguistic inferiority are generally expressed with grammatical perfection, thus highlighting the difference between “knowing” and “knowing about”.

An adult native English speaker will, in fact, have mastered some 3,000 aspects of morphology and syntax, mostly, much to the chagrin of those foreign language learners, though non-conscious and natural acquisition in the three or four years after uttering their first word. Theorists account for this with an innate “language instinct” or “language acquisition device” that, regardless of personality or intelligence and barring only brain damage, has a 100% success rate, with no “knowing about” grammar required.

As a result of these discoveries the great pedagogical pendulum swung away from teaching the “knowing about” grammar in the 60s, leaving many of us with no option but to quickly cram-up on this meta-knowledge in a cheap backpacker’s hostel in Phuket upon running out of funds and deciding to become a TEFL teacher. The rest survived relatively unmolested as the prescriptivists slowly retreated to the refuge of the Telegraph’s letters to the editor. Recent attempts swing the pendulum back have proven problematic.

So, it's highly likely that, assuming they attended school sometime in the last half century, the original commentator may well have been given minimal, if any, education in the “knowing about” grammar, but this is because the best research available suggested it was unnecessary. Furthermore, as is confirmed in the comment, this information is out there, and it is entirely possible to educate yourself on the topic, and thus free yourself from any “extortion”, even in the far from conducive environs of a budget Thai beach bar.

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