As far as I remember, I used to hate language when I was in primary school. Grammar and spelling were my worst enemies. Take a look at your grandparent’s primary school notebook and you’ll see that dictation has always been everybody’s pet hate. In Microstyle, Johnson clearly depicts this situation when he says that people usually associate language with “a potential source of embarrassment, rather than pleasure”. In his book, the linguist tries to make people understand that they should look differently to language, which should be a source of amazement instead of frustration. The manifesto he delivers at the beginning sum it up:
Pay attention to the language around you in the spirit of appreciation and curiosity.
So why should people care about it now, whereas they have always hated it? Johnson’s answer is actually very convincing. Why should we suddenly change our hate for grammar? Simply because the world of language around us has changed. With the apparition of the Internet, mainly, people’s behavior towards language has been affected. As an answer to people that would say that people in general tend to read less and less, Johnson argues that people are simply reading differently. Less books doesn’t mean less opportunity to read, quite the opposite! The content which we can access now thanks to these new technologies is unlimited and so broad that it even scares some of us. We are still reading, words are everywhere if you open a computer. But the way we read is different, scrolling instead of turning pages. Our ability of writing has also been challenged. Thanks to the same new technologies, we are not part of a simple readership as we used to be when it came to books. This medium has no audience anymore, it has users, people that participate actively in it. Each word that you type on your keyboard turn you into a writer.
Johnson argues that such a change also implies the necessity to pay attention to language in order to be more efficient in your communication, and to be introduced with microstyle rather than big style. Microstyle is what you should use when it comes to small messages; it’s about “grabbing that attention for a moment and communicating something quickly”. Big Style, on the other hand, is associated with formality and long messages. I think people definitely need instruction when with microstyle, because that is the way most of us communicate, because we finally understood that language belongs to us, and that words can have a stronger impact in society that we may think.
Fish’s descriptive approach to the sentence is also noteworthy. He deals with the importance of the words in sentences and their impact on the whole meaning and impression it conveys. The tense and mood used in a sentence can change the whole impression on those who read or listen to this sentence. If Fish deals less with microstyle that Johnson does, I think both approaches encourage people to act like linguist and to analyze deeper the messages to which we are confronted with, whether it is a sentence or three words painted on a wall.
No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.
– Robin Williams
I have always been a little skeptical about this quote, but when I think deeply about it, I realize that everybody is actually able to change a little something thanks to the way he uses language.