2016 and 2017 have been draining years. The social media cycles of alarm help us build coalitions, beg for basic rights, and describe injustices carried out by people in power. At the same time, they are designed to sap our energy and create fatigue so we don’t have the energy to build good things up. If we open our Twitter accounts, we all have maelstroms of things in our feeds that will keep us anxious and prevent us from connecting with one another.
I fell in love with grammar — quite literally — as a small child. Making constructed languages has always felt soothing. I’m the kind of language-learner who loves conjugating because it relaxes me. Sometimes, when people speak, I start to focus on the sounds that they don’t realize they’re making — the way that the j sound in English becomes a ch in some places, like a delicate chocolate bonbon — and on the sensation of sound in the mouth, as when the tongue clips forward from y to l in the second person innovation y’all. Language is a beautiful thing. Languages do beautiful things.
One of the most beautiful things about languages is how they change and become new things. They are like rivers, meandering in their valleys. Languages are galaxies, dialects rotating around a common center of gravity where the unseen things before the protolanguages lurk. They merge like galaxies, too — in conquest contacts and in trade partnerships spitting out their words and grammatical pieces like stars in a collision trail.
The concept for Pangrammatike started when I decided that grammar needed its Devil’s Battalion — named for the World War II battalion that tried innovative methods during the war — #grammardevils who care about Future English and ensuring that it is inclusive, that progressive grammar nuts like myself have a voice that is loud enough to matter. It takes a Greek prefix that means all- and the word grammatikê, for grammar, and gloms them together. I worship Hermes, who rules over liminality and things like language and prose, so it’s also a really convenient nod at him.
I want a place where I can talk about conlangs, worldbuilding, and the intersection between them in ways that are not relevant to my podcast Epiphany or the 100 million other stories I write set in the Seven Gardens. (I’ve had a Tumblr for a while, but as I start to figure out what’s important to me, I’m moving more towards using a desktop-based feed reader.) As a #grammardevil, some of this will be sociolinguistics — the Seven Gardens have a somewhat realistic set of conquest contact countries where languages and dialects compete and are under/over-resourced. The science fiction I write is deeply rooted in linguistics and library/information science, and there’s a lot of interplay between the two.
In addition, it’d be cool to actually review recently-published short stories and novellas that actively use conlangs. Because I use my own conlangs in my work, it’s good homework for me; but also, as a fellow conlanger, I think my perspective is relevant.
As an example of why we need #grammardevils, the gender inflection in English’s third person singular pronouns is not working for everyone, and this is a problem. Pronouns exist to refer to an antecedent in an easy, grandparent’s-kitchen-secrets-for-the-best-gluten-free-cinnamon-buns sort of way. The fact that a piece of grammar designed to make life easier for speakers of a language is instead a stressor for a large group of English-speaking human beings is absurd and troubling. The fact that we haven’t standardized a neopronoun makes my ENTJ head spin. It is nearly 2018.
A well-known science fiction reviewer decided to include intolerant comments in ler reviews, and as a cis person who is pro-neopronoun, that bothers me because it (a) reinforces the stigma that grammatical innovation is bad and (b) tells large groups of people that they don’t matter and are not seen.
It’s also annoying because analyzing how people use neopronouns and singular they to see how they are navigating antecedents and innovating in style is profoundly more interesting, positive, and forward-thinking. Stylistic conventions are still evolving because language evolves, and any reviewer is living at a unique moment. Grammar eventually standardizes. We can watch major changes in queer linguistics and queer usage in real time. If I ever do a second master’s degree, unlikely in this political climate and with the 1.3-million word story I’m writing, it’ll probably be in sociolinguistics so I can study pronouns and queer linguistics professionally.
So. When I see things online that are grammatically awesome, I’m going to talk about them like the #grammardevil destroying English from the inside I am. When I do cool usage things, I’m going to share them because positivity pays forward. Beyond gender-neutral pronouns, I’ll also link to other cool things I love about grammar.