I have always loved languages. The ability to transform one’s thought into something tangible and to convey it most effectively to another person—no doubt, it is a skill. I have never stopped to think so much about the technicalities or rules of language simply because it came naturally to me. When you see your mother cooking and learn the art on the go, you probably don’t remember later why a teaspoon of salt would do and why not a tablespoon.
The other thing about rules, as with languages or with cooking or with anything else, is that following them makes you consistent and good, but knowing how to break them, makes you exceptional and innovative. Some great authors I’ve read don’t seem to follow the rules of good writing as we know them today (probably those rules were still evolving then or probably the rules changed later), but I would find it difficult to name books that have impressed me more.
One rule that jumps to mind is about using ‘short sentences’. Most publications, newspapers, books today cater to the impatient reader. Sentences glide quickly from one to the other and it’s not tough for the averagest of readers to get the gist, I’m sure. It’s almost become a rule now, to make your sentences short, make every word count, grab your readers’ attention before it passes on to the next page, online or off it. Personally though, I love long sentences. I love the classics where there was no end to a sentence but you still got what was meant. You probably needed to read it over sometimes but you didn’t mind. Every word didn’t count but when you put all the words together, there was a wealth of meaning hidden, so much emotion packed, so many profound ideas to be discovered—they were all conveyed and conveyed very well. What is the purpose of language if not to convey ideas, emotions, stir you or enthrall you with whatever the writer wishes to enthrall you with? I haven’t read too many things nowadays that actually inspire me—many of them are like today’s fast food, meant to ease your hunger or excite you for the moment but neither satiate nor nourish deeply.
Coming back to rules, recently someone put forward to me a question about a grammatical rule, and it got me thinking. How many of us get stuck up about grammatical rules? Isn’t grammar supposed to describe how a language works rather than control it? And don’t the rules of grammar change when a language does? So why put the rules on a pedestal instead of understanding their function in the larger scheme of things? You could have a perfectly good sentence that flouts a rule of grammar but manages to get the message across perfectly—shouldn’t the sentence pass?! You may have never put spice in your pasta but if takes your pasta to a new hitherto undiscovered level, why not? :)