Newly Minted is conceived as a resource to introduce readers to developments and innovations in text preparation and global English and the impact of digitization. In each installment, we will introduce you to discussions and resources from the dynamic world of language, writing, and publishing. This roundup of issues explores how language and text are changing and adapting to contemporary needs. All websites and blogs are linked to their origins.
On Blogs and Punctuation
In his blog post, “Simple and Best Blogging Conventions,” Srini Saripalli discusses blogging, blogs and bloggers. He writes that “blogging has established itself as both a popular hobby and as a legitimate type of media.” In Student Blogging is About Ideas, Not Writing Conventions,” William Chamberlain addresses the issue of what type of medium blogging provides: Should it feature polished work or offer a forum for the exchange of evolving ideas? He discusses the need for students to focus less on the mechanics of writing and more “on expressing the ideas they are writing about” and urges teachers to encourage “students to think deeper and examine their thoughts more completely.” He also touches upon the debate on descriptive grammar (language as it is actually used) versus prescriptive grammar (language as the rules say it should be used). This difference between the two approaches is explained more thoroughly in Descriptive and Prescriptive Grammar, a website aimed at students of English.
The discussion on writing conventions is not restricted to grammar and issues of punctuation remain controversial. In a recent posting in Slate, provocatively titled “The Rise of ‘Logical Punctuation,’” Ben Yagoda argues that the British style of placing periods and commas outside of the quotation mark is the “logical” way to go. Carol Saller fires right back in her blog post “‘Logical Punctuation’ and Quotation Marks: In Defense of CMOS,” in which she addresses Yagoda’s cursory consideration of the Chicago Manual of Style‘s preference for keeping the punctuation inside the quotation marks. Saller, senior manuscript editor at the University of Chicago Press and editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online Q&A, maintains the blog The Subversive Copy Editor (where the post on logical punctuation appears). Saller’s blog raises additional aspects of the editing field that might be of interest to readers.
In “Death to High School English,” Kim Brooks bemoans the incomprehensible writing of many American college students. In her critique of the high school English curriculum, she contends that high school students should spend more time learning how to write and use proper grammar. Dennis Baron responds in “Teaching Commas Won’t Help” by examining the United States Constitution as an example of a text filled with grammatical “errors.” “But,” he states, “studying grammar won’t help us communicate better any more than studying the internal combustion engine will help us to be better drivers.” Instead, he suggests that writing more will help improve writing, including the type of writing that appears in blogs and social media.
An opinion piece in The New York Times, “The Children’s Book Comes to Life Electronically. Should We Be Alarmed?,” discusses how children are affected by innovations in digital media, such as talking characters, talking words, and music that accompanies the text. Downes raises some interesting points about tools like the iPad and how reading habits could change due to the changes in technology. He asks, “. . . does digital interactivity engender mental passivity?” Perhaps the answer to Downes’ questions can be pursued at The Children’s Digital Media Center @ Los Angeles, which hosts research and provides information about the effects of digital media on children and adolescents.
With a growing shift toward digital versions of books and the trend of libraries, including university libraries, to discard their physical collections, the non-profit Internet Archive, a digital library that includes a freely accessible online collection of texts in the public domain, has just opened a Physical Archive. This storage facility in California will preserve a copy of the books that the Internet Archive digitizes so that “the authentic and original version . . . can be used as a reference in the future.” With a sense that books in their physical, tangible forms might become obsolete, the opening of this storage facility asserts that we must still safeguard the original “to be used for redundancy, authority, and in cases of catastrophe.” So while digitized versions are increasingly becoming the mode, bibliophiles can be reassured that, for now, somewhere out there, the book remains.