Sunday, September 18, 2005

A lesson

Any linguist will tell you that there are several universal steps in language acquisition. Like puberty and death, speech (and sign language for that matter) progresses in a relatively similar fashion for everyone. This should be no surprise; monkeys, marmots, and your aunt's cursing pet parrot all learn to communicate in a predictable fashion. However, humans are unique. We lack feathers, fur, and a universal ceiling for language acquisition. (per linguists, we also have the uncanny ability for infinite creativity; that is, rather than mimicing others or reciting a preprogrammed response to certain stimuli, we string thoughts together in our own independent way. there, if you get nothing else from this blog, you've at least learned enough linguistic fundementals to obviate the horror of an actual linguistics class). Thus, some folks stay at the plateau of language fluency. These unlucky souls never experience the birth of language consciousness, the appreciation (or lack thereof) of language mechanics. Unfortunately, many of those that consider language get stuck questioning the comma. So many rules and restrictions -- put a colon here, capitalize this, check your tense there. But there is life-changing news for all but the most hard-core language anarchists: the minutia of grammar is sensible. It is poetic logic that supports grammar, not some powerful coalition of grammar gods making senseless decisions in their ivory thrones. And I have proof...

On September 16th, I referred to my blessed moment with the AMA Manual of Style. While there I (re) discovered the following procedures:

1. Spell out all numbers at the beginning of sentences
2. Spell out all numbers less than 10 in literary writing
3. Spell out no numbers in scientific writing (unless there is some other reason to do so, like #1)

Okay, why the strange rules regarding numbers? Why does Andrew think this isn't simply a stupid random decision by grey-bearded academicians? I suggest taking a look at the AMA MoS cause I feel like a bit of hack spoiling their tasty tidbits. Oh well, I suppose it took a number of well-meaning monks to pass down the original Bible, and perhaps they didn't get every word in its original most eloquent self. Then again, they probably did. But they were God inspired and in case you couldn't tell, I'm defnitely AMA inspired

In literary writing numbers function as yet another building block to the sentence. Authors intend for words to flow into sentences to flow into paragraphs to flow into pulitzer prize winning pieces. In contrast, the scientist reads/writes with attention focused on the particulars -- how many patients participated in how many procedures? The words are necessary only in a secondary function, to convey the meaning behind numbers.

I'd give a link to the AMA Manual of Style, but I doubt you can find it for free online...

3 comments:

beth said...

enlightening. until now, I would have thought all the poetic logic was mere arbitrary rule-making.

andrew said...

is this sarcasm, deceit, or genuine appreciation? if the latter, thanks! i'm just afraid that our ten-thousand readers might think we're paying you.

beth said...

mostly genuine, 15% tongue in cheek