Thursday, November 22, 2012

Fred Reed on the death of language and culture

...My grade schools of the Fifties still taught grammar and required the diagramming of sentences, now regarded with horror as a sort of linguistic water-boarding. We learned tense, mood, voice, subjunctives and parallelism and appositives. Equally important, we learned to listen to the language as well as its content, without which decent writing is nigh impossible.

With us, the written language was primary, the spoken derived from the written. In Spanish, if I know how “ajolote” is spelled, the word is mine. Otherwise it never quite is. Today among the literarily unwashed, the spoken language becomes primary. Note how “iced tea” becomes “ice tea,” ”boxed set” becomes “box set,“ presumably a set of boxes. The people who use these confusions don’t read, perhaps barely can, and do not know how the words are spelled. Participles? Huh? Wha’?

English once had its equivalents of Lecciones de Castellana. There were Fowler’s The King’s English and American English Usage, and of course Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. These today are as well known to our gilded peasantry as the Gilgamesh Epic.

An attention to meaning existed. We knew that “sensuous” does not mean “sensual,” nor bellicose, belligerent; nor alternate, alternative; nor uninterested, disinterested; nor envious, jealous; nor historic, historical; nor philosophic, philosophical; nor it’s, its.

From The Elements of Style  we learned the all-important “Omit needless words”, from Fowler:

Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.
Prefer the concrete word to the abstract.
Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.
Prefer the short word to the long.
Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance.

But that was then. Today usage nose-dives from the merely infelicitous to the downright annoying. Note the increasing penetration of language by that form of mispronunciation, once the marker of the lower middle class and below, in which emphasis falls on the first syllable of words. HOtel, INsurance, DEEfense, REEsources, DEEtail. It is the linguistic parallel of a facial tattoo.
Read the rest here.


Ikonophile said...

Uh, language evolves? If he is advocating prescriptivism, I will have no part in it. Pronunciation changes, words change, grammar changes (hence the lack of the case system common to Germanic languages). English will survive, but it will not look like the English of 100 years ago, as the language then doesn't match English exactly 100 years before that. Classical, koine and modern Greek anyone?

Matthew M said...

Yes, and the "KING JAMES ONLY" crowd has never tried to read a copy of the 1611 Authorized (KJV).
I tried and it looks like Old German to me!
So yes the times and language does change and even those French blowhards are having trouble keeping their language 'pure'.
And so it goes.

LV said...

As recently as 2007, I forced three classes of freshman composition students to buy Strunk and White. I also forced them to read one book. It did very little good, and now the department in which I was an adjunct instructor requires a standard texts across all sections of the course. But I did try.
However, it is true that language changes and even I have almost submitted to the use of "their" in place of "his or her."

Jack O'Malley said...

Iconophile might want to refresh his "common Germanic" (sic) grammar. German and Dutch have cases. English too.

But who would presume to prescribe to anti-prescriptivist. A literary protestant.

Preach it, Brother Fred.

Ikonophile said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ikonophile said...

The English case system is hanging on... by a thread. I believe it is still seen in the apostrophe and 's' and in personal pronouns (?) but lacks the full blown case system of German, Russian, Greek and Latin. It is obvious that this transition is one way and we will not be deviating from the order of S.V.O. in the forseeable future.

A literary Protestant? Neither Greek nor Hebrew (languages chosen by God for the revelation of the covenants) suffer zero change at the hands of time, unlike the dogma of the Church. No substance whatsoever.

I apologize for being unclear. I should have said "...grammar changes which is why English lacks the case system that is present in Germanic languages". I do see how that can be read two ways. I am aware that Germanic languages use the case system. I am also aware that many influences, amkng others French, have had an impact on the English language to such a degree that it is a hybrid and doesn't fully conform to the grammar of modern Romance languages or modern Germanic languages.

Nikolaus said...

I'm in my mid-50's and recall sentance diagrahming. I hated it then but wish desperately for its return. In this electronic age office communication is about 75+% electronic - people a few feet away won't even get off their keesters to talk. But I'm finding that the ability to write is actually disappearing.

Stephen said...

The net effect is to create just two classes, rulers and ruled, with very little ability to pass from the latter to the former. The rulers will be able to communicate effectively, while the ruled will be allowed to degrade themselves on many levels, including their language.

If you deduce that this is well underway by the evidence you observe, consider yourself highly politically incorrect. Perhaps then you will also realize that this societal bifurcation has been part of the Progressive dream since Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and carried on by their adherents to this day.

Seems to me that the Progressives are wiping the floor with whoever else there might be. They're winning, and winning big.

Jack O'Malley said...

Iconophile, you are all over the map here. I'm not sure what you mean about dogma or language. Your statements about the various Indo-European languages are a bit outré. For example, what is a "full-blown" case system? As opposed to a non-full-blown case system. What about Finnish?

Has dogma not developed? Can we know what the early Judaeo-Christians thought about the Trinity, the Theotokos, and a myriad of other dogmas, without the acceptance of the evolution of language? That is not to say that Truth is obscured by language but rather that it is illumined by the development of language and concomitantly, the development of dogma. What did St. Paul think of the Immaculate Conception?

And did God not choose Aramaic as well among the supposedly "God-chosen covenantal languages"? And if so, did He most assuredly not choose Latin? And further, does not the lamp of civilisation still burn in the West because of Irish speaking monks who spoke the most sublime of all of the divinely chosen tongues?

God communicates with each of us in our own language. As did the Theotokos who spoke to Bernadette in her crude country dialect and not the literary French of the Académie.

And remember, God was the original prescriptivist.