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TSE  December 2004

TSE December 2004

Subject:

Re: (OT) Internet : an overkill ?

From:

Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Mon, 20 Dec 2004 21:07:07 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (128 lines)

Well, on namecalling, I do not recall anyone (certainly not me)
"claim[ing] in a loud voice that they are the downfall of civilization."
 That is another form of namecalling or at least ad hominem/ad feminem.
In fact, however, nothing you say here explains the very real and very
intense increase in sloppy writing (constant errors of the most obvious
type that most students actually recognize if asked to read it out loud)
that I have seen since the introduction of these "checkers" that do not
know how to check.  I suspect (seriously) that they are programmed by
people who also have no knowledge of grammar.  But more important, they
do, I am sure, encourage the assumption that one need not learn any
syntax or style, and, even worse, they encourage the major problem with
all teaching of English in my view--it is taught as error and
correction.  Almost no one (and almost no available text) ever starts
with how to construct a good sentence.  So students are constantly told
or the common mistakes, but no one has ever told them what is a correct
form or a sophisticated style or idiomatic syntax.  Most of us who do
know these things learned them by a life of reading so that when we read
grammar, we recognize it.  Students now have read less, partly due to
the ubiquitous internet and electronic gadgets that seem to fascinate
them, and their errors are often just writing down what they hear.  None
know "it's" from "its"; they write "prejudice" for "prejudiced"; and so
on.  But they speak quite good sentences that they have never learned to
translate onto a page of print.  Showing them "errors" is pointless for
the most part because they never learned the form of a sentence to begin
with.  So if a grammar checker changes their restrictive clause to
nonrestrictive ones, even if it makes no sense, they just leave it.

I have taught writing for many years in many different settings, and the
change I see is real and difficult to address, and it is very much
influenced by computer composing.

As for the internet, that does require already knowing how to evaluate a
source to be of much value also.
Nancy

>>> [log in to unmask] 12/20/04 4:56 PM >>>
On Mon, Dec 20, 2004 at 04:20:40PM -0500, Nancy Gish wrote:
> You have a serious point that the internet and email have made many
> things possible (I have no idea how anyone co-edited before it, for
> example), but Vishvesh has a serious point also, and it is nonsense to
> call it nonsense.  Surely you can improve on namecalling as a
response.

I do apologize for any namecalling; however, I also stick by most of
what I
said.  I tend to believe that those who depend upon grammar checking are
those for whom grammar is a problem to begin with, and I don't see any
evidence to suggest that, were an automatic grammar checker not
available,
these people would spend the time to figure out how to write what they
intend to mean.  Grammar checkers have their problems, naturally--but it
might be argued that they can in some cases heighten awareness of some
of
the writing deficiencies that grammar checkers *are* able to catch.
There
is of course the problem that people have a bizarre blind trust in
computers, and I've known people to say things like "well, Microsoft
Word
said that so-and-so", when they really should know better.  But I tend
to
feel that grammar is used well by those who appreciate it, who
understand
its nuances, who realize that it is a matter not only of 'rules' but
also of
style; and I think that people who can write well will write well,
whereas
people who write poorly may at least be encouraged to write better in
some
small way.

A spell checker will not know the correct spelling, in the examples that
you
cite, until it can understand context (which is a difficult thing for a
computer to do, naturally, but which may nonetheless come to pass)-- but
nor
either can the poor speller, and unless they reach for the
dictionary--and
understand what they should be looking for--then they'll be no better
off.
The computer can, again, perhaps lure someone into a sense of security:
"the
computer hasn't flagged it as being 'wrong', so it must be right"--but
this
is surely a known issue, and one that will be improved upon in future
iterations of software.  It is not an intrinsic failing of technology:
this
may be understood, but it often doesn't stop people from railing against
technology per se rather than understanding the limitations of where we
are
_now_ versus where we may be in future.

Grammar checkers, spell checkers, style checkers--these are not tools
for
people like you, Nancy; they're for people who don't know any better.
Do
they encourage a certain laziness, a certain sloppiness?  Perhaps; but I
don't think it's possible to so readily dismiss them, to claim in a loud
voice that they are the downfall of civilization and that we are all
becoming stupider in the face of this evil technology.  Our society as a
whole is perhaps more convenient, and we demand greater convenience in
most
of the things that we do--but that's a broader issue, and at any rate I
don't think that the correct approach is this new asceticism.  Maybe,
just
maybe, these tools have their place: to catch mistakes where possible,
and
to try to improve the level of writing of those who need them.
Increasingly, I think we will find that these tools will improve for
those
who do need them-- and the rest of us will continue to simply: turn them
off.

This is all somewhat beside the point, though, because Vishvesh's
comments
weren't so much on the deficiencies of word processors as on the
problems of
the Internet, and specifically (I think) on the trade-off between the
ease
of communication/publication and the quality of what is
communicated/published.  And here, again, I feel that the
Internet--despite
all of the laziness and idiocy and flaming and hatred and whathaveyou
that
is out there--is nonetheless an increasingly important, valuable thing
whose
effect is not to our detriment, but is to our huge advantage.

--George

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