I don't know about you but I don't want to be referred to as a thing. I'm a person, a human being, not an inanimate object or lesser life form. I am a who. As I read fiction the reference to a person or persons using the word 'that' has become commonplace. This disturbs me on several levels.
1. Our school system is broken. We know that. Grammar is undervalued as is punctuation. Rather than convincing students to speak properly the emphasis is on teaching to the test. But I won't rant on that.
2. Devaluing humanity. By referring to people the same way garbage is referred to devalues human life.
3. As writers we need to use correct grammar as a way to influence others who do not know better to correct their own way of speaking.
4. It eliminates an option in developing characters.
"Maggie told them about the man that had come to the shop."
"Maggie told them about the man who had come to the shop."
It may seem like it doesn't make any difference, but to me the man in the second sentence is now just that. A man, a human being, someone with purpose, personality, perspective. He isn't something that has been delivered. He can effect Maggie and those whom she is speaking to.
"But that's the way everyone talks today." Not a valid reason. I don't speak that way and neither do others. Remember your mother saying, "Just because everyone is doing it doesn't make it write."
In my humble opinion, I believe writers have a responsibility to use our language correctly. Lowering our standards to the common denominator devalues not only ourselves as writers but devalues our readers. Making sure our writing is of a high standard shows we care about the readers because we took the time to make sure what they read is good quality in every aspect.
When we use grammar correctly whether it is that or who or any other we expand our character development possibilities. If the majority of the characters speak correctly the ones who need to be shown in a particular way can easily be developed by their use of incorrect grammar. Their personality, background, etc. can be shown and not told by the way they speak. If all the characters use incorrect grammar that type of development of the character is absent.
Think of the play and movie 'My Fair Lady' based on the story 'Pygmalion' by George Bernard Shaw. The entire premiss is that hope we speak distinguishes people and thus how people treat us. The movie starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison is a classic and no doubt easily found for you to watch. It is worth it.
I'm a who, not a that. Who are you?
Sophie Dawson is an award winning author of Christian fiction. Her latest novel, Seeing The Life, has garnered numerous 5 star reviews for its unique perspective on the life of Jesus.
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