Local Broadcasters Accelerate the Erosion of Proper Grammar.
July 7, 2012
Call this posting a point of personal privilege or maybe just an expression of personal irritation. In today’s age of technology enabled, perpetual personal connectivity it is not difficult to hear and see examples of how proper grammar is becoming accidental or at best discretionary. It is a reality that in some situations and environments using proper grammar may be secondary to communication. Who’s willing to criticize the grammar of a firefighter shouting out for assistance? However, at the other end of the spectrum are professional journalists who have no excuse for using bad grammar.
A person paid to speak English owes it to their audience, especially the children, to follow at least the very basic rules of grammar. Nowhere is this journalistic dereliction of duty more evident than in local news broadcasts. Examples of this are a daily occurrence. The following was heard recently on a local morning news show:
“Two life guards in Hallandale they have quit their jobs.”
I hope that anyone reading this immediately recognizes the absurdity of including two subjects in a sentence. Choose one – “Two life guards in Hallandale have quit their jobs” OR “They have quit their jobs”. As it turns out, the transcript for this particular broadcast gets the sentence right so it must be a case of the anchor adding their own, personal punch to the line. Ad libbing with poor grammar seems like it would be a career limiting choice and in fact it probably is. The following is an excerpt of the transcript from the broadcast (all caps is their formatting)
TWO LIFEGUARDS IN HALLANDALE HAVE QUIT THEIR JOBS.
AFTER A THIRD LIFEGUARD WAS FIRED FOR RESCUING A DROWNING MAN.
TOMAS LOPEZ– LEFT HIS DESIGNATED ZONE MONDAY TO SAVE THE MAN WHO WAS STRUGGLING IN AN AREA THE LIFEGUARD’S ARE NOT CONTRACTED TO PROTECT.
Interestingly, although the writers got the opening sentence right, they had a bit of a problem making the word lifeguard plural. That apostrophe can be challenging. Actually it isn’t all that tough to remember that an apostrophe is used to either show possession OR to show a missing letter or letters as in a contraction. “Lifeguard’s” means either “lifeguard is” or the lifeguard posses something.
In my local media market I hear the bizarre sentence structure of including two subjects on a daily basis. In the national media it is far less prevalent which I assume is a reflection of higher standards as on-air talent is promoted from local markets to the national market. The notable exception is Wolf Blitzer who seems to enjoy national exposure in spite of his frequently including multiple subjects in his sentences.
Why is grammar important?
In his article, “In Word and Deed“, David Crystal describes the importance of grammar in the following way. “Grammar is the structural foundation of our ability to express ourselves. The more we are aware of how it works, the more we can monitor the meaning and effectiveness of the way we and others use language. It can help foster precision, detect ambiguity, and exploit the richness of expression available in English. And it can help everyone–not only teachers of English, but teachers of anything, for all teaching is ultimately a matter of getting to grips with meaning.”
Much has been written about how grammar is rarely taught any longer as an independent subject worthy of its own attention. More common now is to teach grammar within the context of other subjects. Although an interesting topic, a discussion of the merits of prescriptive grammar versus descriptive grammar  is beyond the scope of this posting. Instead of that riveting discussion I would offer the following basic grammar observations for anyone, especially those in broadcast media, wishing to sound a bit more intelligent.
Use only one subject in a sentence.
Incorrect: The lifeguards they quit.
Correct: The lifeguards quit.
Use pronouns properly by referring to yourself in the last position
Incorrect: I and Joe went to the store.
Correct: Joe and I went to the store.
Use the correct pronoun; nominative case versus the objective case
Incorrect: Throw the ball to Joe and I.
Correct: Throw the ball to Joe and me.
As a corollary to the use of proper pronoun case, avoid hypercorrection.
Hypercorrection is inappropriately applying a grammar rule typically to make oneself sound proper. Most often this involves the incorrect use of “I.”
Incorrect: The car belongs to my wife and I.
Correct: The house belongs to my wife and me.
Avoid “whom” hypercorrection.
Incorrect: I am the one whom is at fault.
Correct: I am the one who is at fault.
Avoid using an extraneous preposition at the end of a sentence.
Incorrect: Where are you at?
Correct: Where are you?
Avoid dropping the “g” in participles.
This is not a grammatical error but one that is heard frequently in local media.
Incorrect: Comin’ up in the next half hour.
Correct: Coming up in the next half hour.
Always use a possessive pronoun with a gerund phrase.
A gerund is a verb ending in “ing” that is used as a noun.
Incorrect: I appreciate you coming on the show.
Correct: I appreciate your coming on the show.
For some broadcasters using a possessive pronoun with a gerund appears to be advanced grammar concept but it’s not complex. In this example, the speaker appreciates the fact that the person had come on the show and does not appreciate the person himself, e.g. “I appreciate your coming on the show” versus “I appreciate you.”
I am not an English teacher, I am not a grammarian and I’m sure I make my share of grammatical errors. I suppose there is a spectrum of proper grammar usage ranging from abysmal to academic. Doesn’t it seem that broadcast news personalities should be near the top of that spectrum? It’s not that hard to get the basics right.
 See “The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language”, http://catdir.loc.gov/catdir/samples/cam033/2001025630.pdf