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Taylor Swift’s Impact on the Academic World

Swift announced her new album on Feb. 4 at the Grammy Awards, sparking an online debate about the decision to leave the apostrophe out of the word “poets.”

Taylor Swift’s latest album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” is swiftly approaching its release on April 19 and the internet has not kept quiet about its opinions on the new album, specifically on the grammar choice in the title. Due to the academic nature of the debate, several Millersville University professors provided their input into Swift’s controversial grammar decision.

Swift announced her new album on Feb. 4 at the Grammy Awards, sparking an online debate about the decision to leave the apostrophe out of the word “poets.” Many took to social media to post their opinions and thoughts about whether the grammar choice was right or wrong, and many MU professors also have opinions on the grammar choice and the importance of this debate in an academic setting.

Dr. Yufeng Zhang, an associate English professor at MU, explains that she applied the debate to a lesson in her linguistics class as it relates to several concepts students learn about. “I do believe the debate about Taylor Swift’s new album title is relevant and important to academic discussions in an educational setting. I shared a news article about this debate with students in my linguistics class, as it is a perfect example of language use in real life. It also relates to linguistic concepts such as descriptivism and prescriptivism and form and meaning.”

Zhang explains that the debate may have taken off so quickly due to our ideas about grammar and language. “There are two different approaches to language: descriptivism, which tends to describe or record language as it is used in real life, and prescriptivism, which tends to establish or enforce how language should be used.”

“Prescriptivism focuses more on form or rule violations than descriptivism does. This debate relates to these concepts as one side cares more about rules (it’s wrong to miss the possessive -‘s, for instance), while the other side cares more about meaning (or Taylor’s intended meaning) and argues it’s her decision to make,” Zhang explains.

Dr. Justin Mando, chair of the English and World Languages department at MU, emphasizes Zhang’s thoughts, explaining that there are several teaching opportunities from this debate. “We can discuss how grammatical choices reflect upon us as a person. Did Taylor get it wrong? How would that make us feel about her? Did she purposefully flaunt a rule to make a point? People often see unconventional grammar as an indication of a careless writer, so we need to be careful about the impression we make on our readers through such seemingly small marks on the page.”

Mando also notes that the Writing Center sees many students who have trouble with grammar. “Students tend to think of grammar as law. They think there is one right way, and deviating from what’s accepted can get us in trouble. In fact, grammar has emerged through our patterns of use. Different people use grammar to achieve purposes that aren’t always aligned.”

The debate took off shortly after the announcement creating a spike in the talk around the album and another debate into why the public was so interested in the topic.

Dr. Stacey Irwin, a communication and theatre professor at MU, takes a media perspective noting that the debate was bound to happen due to Swift’s popularity. “Taylor Swift is so popular that any debate about anything she does is going to be all over social media. She is talented, professional and accomplished and has grown up in the media spotlight. Her demographic is also very social media savvy.”

Overall, Mando explains that he understands the decision to exclude the apostrophe from the title from a writer’s standpoint. “I ran through the three options she had (poet’s, poets’, or poets), and felt that I understood her choice to name the department for the people who belong to it rather than to emphasize the poets’ ownership of the department. I also think that it visually looks better in an album title to go without the apostrophe. Even writers have to consider the visual aspects of their craft.”

Additionally, if you are interested in learning more about Swift’s connections to the academic world, make sure to check out MU’s English and World Language Department’s blog and Instagram account @ville.englishworldlanguage as they are posting connections to each “era” up until the April 19 listening party.

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