Letters to the WebWeaver!

Communicating

I have never considered myself to be a great grammarian or speller - and I have ample proof that this is not simple modesty on my part. However, I have worked on both and, in particular, have come to pay very close attention to them in delivering a course on Elements of Clear Writing for UNB in Bathurst, as part of that institution's School of Nursing program. I have been puzzled frequently of late, then, when I have come across a particular construction, one that is showing up with increasing regularity in even supposedly good newspapers and magazines.

This is my own example of the construction. "I recently bought a new car. Which was a very important decision for me." Starting a new sentence in this way - with "which" - has always seemed wrong to me, because such a sentence is incomplete and therefore faulty. However, as I said above, I am seeing this construction increasingly often, in newspapers such as The Telegraph-Journal, The Globe and Mail, and, even (if it can be imagined) in The Tribune (albeit in a guest column). As well, it crops up in all sorts of magazines and other forms of writing that have at least some pretence to good writing.

I was preparing a class for my course the other evening when I came across yet another example of the construction. I decided, then and there, to resolve this for myself. Was it, in fact, a grammatical error, or had I missed something somewhere along the way? It turns out that it is an error, one that seems to be caused by an on-going confusion over usage of two words in our language: "which" and "that". "That" is a very strong little word in English; it is used in a number of ways, including that of a demonstrative pronoun. There are only two such pronouns in the language - "that", and "this". However many people want to use "which" in the same way - and that is where the error occurs. To go back to my example above, it would be correct to write "That was a very important decision for me." "This was a very important decision for me" is also correct, but "Which ..." isn't.

Does it really matter? Well, yes, I think that it does. The language that we speak and write is still the most important means of communication that we have. The more we compromise the language, the less effectively we communicate. At some point, we begin to become obscure in our meanings to the point where no one is really certain about what we are trying to say - and that can only lead to intellectual chaos. Far too often, I try to read letters of editors, columns in magazines and newspapers, and even feature articles, only to give up because the organization of thought, and the structure of the language used, is so poor that I cannot be certain about what is being said.

We can blame the education system, the overuse of computers, or dark phases of the moon if we like, but the central fact of the matter is that if even supposedly good writers, working for supposedly good journals, become increasingly sloppy, we take the chance of losing the ability to communicate altogether.

Chantal Kaye

HI there, I'm original from Campbellton but now live in Ottawa. I enjoy going to your site to get the latest news and stuff.

Salmon festival is coming up in the next week or so why don't you have any information on your site about it ??

Cheers

Chantal in Ottawa

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In Answer to your question Chantal

We have contacted a few of the Festival committee members and asked to have a copy of the program in time for us to type it all out and place it on the site but we are still awaiting.. sorry..

Irene

 

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