Carnegie Mellon University

March Forth

03-02-2010

Hopper Celebrates National Grammar Day

Grammar rules can be confusing. Especially with texting abbreviations, lyrics, slogans, 140-character limits and internet slang contributing to what seems like more generally accepted flexibility in grammar. To promote awareness of proper grammar and its importance for clear communication, the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (SPOGG) designated March 4 as National Grammar Day. It is intended to encourage people to speak and write well and to celebrate language.

Paul Hopper, the Paul Mellon Distinguished Professor of the Humanities, doesn't need a special holiday to commemorate grammar. A world-renowned linguist, Hopper focuses on the relationship between the structure of language and rhetoric. Last summer, he took a sabbatical and spent it pursuing research and lecturing as a Senior Fellow at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies at Albert Ludwigs-Universität in Germany.

His current research questions how grammar is approached in spoken language. "People tend to think grammar is just about writing correctly," Hopper said. "Historically, linguists have been interested in written language, but now technology allows us to study spoken language. When we talk, we string together phrases that we’ve heard before. This creates its own structure as time goes on, and written grammatical rules are not used."

Hopper feels that his quest to understand how people speak will uncover the nature of communication in an entirely different way. "What I'm seeing is that spoken grammar follows routines," he said. "It's not that we're obeying rules of correctness, but more like we're following routines."

In addition to teaching classes in the English Department, Hopper travels abroad to give various lectures. Last fall he was the keynote speaker at a conference at the University of Helsinki with a paper on "Phrase Building Strategies in Longer Utterances." And, on March 9, he will celebrate National Grammar Day a few days late with a talk at Carnegie Mellon Qatar on "Language in Global Hotspots."

Shilo Raube