Why strict rules matter in grammar

Friday March 24 2017

A man reads a newspaper in Kitale. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A man reads a newspaper in Kitale. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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In the caption “Opposition leader Raila Odinga with his wife Ida and daughter, Rosemary, in South Africa” (page 8 of The Standard of March 21), if it is necessary to put the name “Rosemary” between commas, it should also be necessary to put both names “Raila Odinga” and “Ida” between commas of their own. That, however, is a problem not so much of grammar as of inconsistency in style. Consistency helps to endear the medium to the consumers most conscious of language and who are, therefore, best placed to make the greatest impact on how society behaves. A language is socially significant only if the users obey the conventions of it called “rules”.

However, the term “rules” may put people off as powerfully as does the term “law”, its counterpart elsewhere in society. Thus the grammarians impose certain rules upon all individuals of every human collective to ensure understanding and smoothness in their nature-imposed collectivity. It is much better to be put off in this way than to be allowed to break the rules and thus risk causing anarchy in your society. For smoothness, social order, is what is necessary if any society – human or otherwise – is to maximise both the providence and the quality of its collective wherewithal.

Although the grammarians write books to run a common thread through such rules, language itself develops only from the objective rhythms of a given human collective’s environment and work experience. Thus every social species needs a collective body whose duty it is to impose such rules on all members. Among humans, government is the collective heritage of a species whose brain has become too large to be forced through a narrow and uniform behavioural straitjacket that we call instinct. Such rules become absolutely necessary especially when – like ours – a species develops to a mental stage which tends to drive individuals towards anarchic self-pursuits.


Among humans, such individual pursuits tend to negate the objective benefits – the insurance – that life in a social collectivity can promise. All of what we call crimes are individual or small- group activities which – consciously or unconsciously – injure or otherwise negate the objective benefits of social living.

The problem is how to achieve such peace among a species in which – even in its narrowest national divisions – opinionation or differing in individual thinking and behaviour has become so pronounced as to make partisanship (the political associations that we call parties) the only possible way of organising politics.

The separate intelligentsias of liberal Japan, North America and Western Europe separately assure us that the problem is continually solved and resolved by means of regular national elections into such law-making bodies as parliaments and diets.

Thus the liberal regime never answers the perennial question of the solid individual and mass ignorance and self-ignorance that characterise what the French language used to call le massif central, namely, the mass of human beings who live wholly according to the social myths woven by the ruling national econo-religious intelligentsia.