Monday, March 15, 2010

Is Technology Morphing English? MayB That’s Gr8

I’ve long been in favor of the fluidity of modern English. I love how it lives and breathes and have often told people that, if they don’t like it, they ought to go study Latin. After all, if it’s dead language you want, they are out there. English, however, is not one of those.

Though some would see this as a sort of rude and spiritual liberalism, even I roll my eyes when the teenagers in my life can’t seem to get even the softest handle on contractions and even the scholastically brilliant high schoolers I know – the honor roll students with the kick-ass grades – can’t spell much of anything right on Facebook.

Even so, absolutely none of this prepared me for the assertions made my David Crystal, an honorary professor of linguistics at the Bangor University, most recently author of A Little Book of Language, and interviewed last weekend by The Independent.

Among other things, Crystal urges kids to party down with language:
“The ethos of 50 years ago was that there was one kind of English that was right and everything else was wrong; one kind of access that was right and everything else was inferior,” he says. “Then nobody touched language for two generations. When it gradually came back in, we didn’t want to go back to what we did in the 1950s. There’s a new kind of ethos now.”

What has replaced it is something far more fluid – descriptive rather than prescriptive, as the terminology goes. In schools, appropriateness has replaced the principle of correctness. “Now, one looks at all varieties of language and asks why they are used,” says Crystal. “We are rearing a generation of kids who are more equitable and more understanding about the existence of language variety and why it is there.”
This may be the post-modern position on language, but it obviously isn’t going to work for everyone:
This doesn’t sit easy with the traditionalists, of whom there are still many – as Lynne Truss’s bestselling Eats, Shoots and Leaves proved. That book was a dog-whistle call to all those who missed the old certainties of grammar textbooks. “It is interesting,” notes Crystal, his usually cool delivery tinged suddenly with a hint of exasperation. “What did Lynne do after Eats, Shoots and Leaves? She wrote Talk to the Hand [a book about rudeness and courtesy]. Anyone interested in language ends up writing about the sociological issues around it.”

Crystal calls this a “moral panic” over “mythologies” – his clearest example being the belief that text messaging is destroying children’s ability to spell. “It's all nonsense, but people believe it.”


Blogger quidquid said...

I am loving David Crystal for saying something that actually makes SENSE about the evolution of language. lolspeak and txt abbreviations all the other non-traditional dialects that are emerging are a totally valid and completely fascinating form of expression. Language is fluid and constantly changing and it always has been--and that's beautiful.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 at 7:32:00 AM PDT  

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