“Our language is deteriorating!”

(With thanks to Earl Hunsinger and Wikipedia)

  • Jan. 18, 2011 6:00 p.m.

(With thanks to Earl Hunsinger and Wikipedia)

It seems this is a constant concern for educators, parents and the general public.

But how or why is this happening today?

What could be causing this to occur?

The English language is changing, and you are responsible!

Whether we consider changes in grammar, spelling, pronunciation, or the very vocabulary of the language, you have played your part and continue to do so.

When we first learned basic grammar and spelling in elementary school, we might have formed the impression that these things were sacred.

The rules that apply to such things might have been presented as unchanging and unchangeable and perhaps in our lifetime they are, but even this may be changing.

Simply stated, if a language is used, it is changed.

The English language, like many others, is a living, growing, ever-evolving thing.

This has been true from its beginning and it continues to be true today.

Like it or not, you are involved in this change. So is every other English-speaking person in the world!

Language change or the evolution of language is the phenomenon whereby phonetic, morphological, semantic, syntactic, and other features of language vary over time. This effect on language over time is known as diachronic change.

Two linguistic disciplines in particular concern themselves with studying language change: historical linguistics and sociolinguistics.

Historical linguists examine how people in the past used language and seek to determine how subsequent languages derive from previous ones and relate to one another.

Sociolinguists study the origins of language changes and want to explain how society and changes in society influence language.

It is these social changes we are considering when we think of change.

These changes take many forms. Grammar and spelling have changed radically over the years and centuries, with the spelling differences in different countries today a reflection of this.

While the language of a thousand years ago might be called English, most of us would hardly recognize it today as the same language.

For example consider the following Old English phrase from about 1000 AD: “Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum.” Rendered in Middle English from 1384 it becomes: “Oure fadir þat art in heuenes halwid be þi name.”

In the Early Modern English of 1611 it might be more recognizable: “Our father which art in heauen, hallowed be thy name.”

Now add to this the uniqueness of geographical changes to language brought about through pronunciation and colloquialism….y’all…and change becomes inevitable.

Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, in 1712 wrote that the English language should be locked into a specific format.

His idea was that language should be fixed forever, frozen in time, and protected from the ravages of fashion and social trends.

Language change is almost always perceived as a negative thing.

During the eighteenth century, Swift and many other influential figures felt the English language was in a state of serious decline and that a national institution, such as existed in France and Italy, should be created to establish rules and prevent further decay.

We need to establish that language is now more specialized and unique than ever before.

There are many words that most of us will never use because they belong to a lexicon of specific fields such as science, medicine, technology, philosophy, and sports to name just a few.

We accept these changes as part of advancement of human knowledge and information and realize that as the general public do not need to know most of these terms. Think of how the sense of being politically correct changes language and the ways in which feminism and feminist literature has changed the lexicon and the meaning of many words and written works.

But today we have a new ‘threat’, a great leveller that is producing rapid change and is altering language almost at a generational level, faster than any trend of the past. This is not just the creation of slang or a unique communication amongst teenagers.

No, this is something entirely different.

It began when television came on the scene, which spelled the end of afternoon and evening editions of newspapers. Now, with net publishing, both the newspaper industry and book publishing have declined significantly with numerous closures and massive job losses.

With the ability of people to publish and blog on the Internet we are seeing a further decline in hard copy journalism of many types.

Even this new format of online journalism has now seen an ebbing of its fortunes for a variety of reasons.

What seems to be pushing all of these previous formats into the background is the technological revolution enabling people to communicate at a rapid rate in real time. No, not your telephone, it is the use of technology to communicate with each other by texting or tweeting. For example:

“gr8 2C u, hw r? w@ av u bn ^ l8ly? Im getN wed n d fall RU d8N NE1? 911 wen u gt N2 twn dis ~0~.”

Translation – Great to see you, how are you? What have you been up lately?

I am getting married in the fall are you dating anyone? Call me when you get into town this summer.

Some Ontario schools are already embracing electronic devices; even Premier Dalton McGuinty came out in favour of electronic devices in classrooms.

The Toronto District School Board which recently banned cellphones in school is now reconsidering its policy. The debate rages on about electronic devices in the classroom.

So we seemed to be poised on the verge of a possibly dramatic change in our language.

Will the ‘language of texting’ erode our current accepted English?

Perhaps, but I would prefer a quote from Shakespeare to end with. “wrds, wrds, mere wrds, no m@r frm d hart.”

It is just not the same as, “Words, words, mere words, no matter from the heart,” or is it?

Perhaps if Shakespeare were alive today, he may take a break from tweeting to “LOL” at this dispute.

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