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punch line loser
08-01-2011, 11:34 PM
So enough of you complained about my lack of grammar conventions when posting, and while I still think it's stupid that I heard so much about it, I know when I'm beaten.

But it's gotten me thinking. Every so often you hear cranky professors complaining about how English has been degrading, especially in the US, and especially in the 20th century. The issue was debated hotly when they tried to introduce Ebonics into some public schools in the 70s, and the proliferation of Internet/text message speak, both written and spoken, often raises the issue again.

I have very limited experience studying linguistics, but one of the first things I was taught in that class was that the idea of a "standard" accent or dialect of a language is more or less an invention of whomever has the most power socially, and in the end I think I agree that no variant of a language - Cockney versus London English, southern vs. northern in the US, or Quebec as opposed to Parisian French - is inherently any more "proper" or "grammatical" than another.

Which applies to written language, too. A lot of aspects of what are considered "proper" writing are things like capitalizing letters at the beginning of sentences, which at the end of the day are pretty arbitrary - to my mind, anyway, an uncapitalized post presents no difficulty to understanding the substance of a written statement, nor do many missing punctuation marks. Of course there should be written standards, for literature or journalism, say, but why should a written colloquium like a messageboard be held to a different standard than a spoken one, where all sorts of "non-standard" language is par for the course?

Elitists like William Strunk, Jr. like to complain about words being "misused" when really they're evolving - to me, all the bitching and moaning about English "degrading" is just patronizing nonsense. All dialects are grammatically coherent and are evolving no matter which old guard wants to adhere to archaic and arbitrary rules. Your thoughts?

P.S. I want to point out that I'm not trying to piss anyone off who was telling me to capitalize - this board has a style sheet, and I get that. The comments got me thinking, that's all. I'm honestly not out to offend anybody, and I myself don't take the issue very personally. Fire away.

Revenant Threshold
08-01-2011, 11:37 PM
Degradation in and of itself of a language doesn't really make sense to me. Something like that has to be in context; you can't just have an innate standard for a language.

Really, the only thing you need to take into account as far as "positive" and "negative" language, in my book, is communication. Do you get your point across? Is it understood? Have you annoyed the other person? If not, great, you've used language well. But even that isn't down to some innate standard.

Ambivalid
08-01-2011, 11:44 PM
Proper capitalization and punctuation is extremely helpful in the flow and understanding of a text. Without it, reading and comprehending something can become difficult because everything just becomes one big string of consciousness, written down. And to call the standards for the written word "arbitrary" shows an incredible lack of appreciation for our language.

Inner Stickler
08-01-2011, 11:46 PM
Changing. You can find people as far back as the 1300s complaining that the language is sliding downhill at breakneck speed. If they thought it was crap back then, what hope would we have now. Except by all accounts, we're doing great. We even have more words and can discuss and communicate ideas with greater specificity than ever. If this is a topic that interests you, I highly recommend David Crystal's The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left (http://www.amazon.com/Fight-English-Language-Pundits-Shot/dp/0199229694)

punch line loser
08-01-2011, 11:47 PM
Proper capitalization and punctuation is extremely helpful in the flow and understanding of a text. Without it, reading and comprehending something can become difficult because everything just becomes one big string of consciousness, written down.

I guess, but a lot of spoken conversations are like that, aren't they? Someone's written grammar might not be perfect, but an individual's quirks in writing can be seen as an expression of their personality, which would lend a much more personal feel to a written conversation the same way someone's idiosyncrasies would contribute to a spoken one.

Inner Stickler
08-01-2011, 11:55 PM
A big difference is that a written conversation is decoded by the reader at their leisure. Spoken conversations are repetitious and vague. Sentences will lack subjects or objects and the speakers hearken back to unspecified but shared antecedents. That is less appealing in written discourse because there is no real-time constraint preventing deeper and more complete understanding. It's a good exercise to, the next time you are on a bus or outside in public, get out a notebook and transcribe an overheard conversation. You will most likely be surprised at the way people really talk.

That being said, punctuation and capitalization can be used or left out for great stylistic effect.

"Oh," I said quietly.

has a rather different feel than

-oh- i said quietly.

and it's silly to limit our palette from these, often more interesting, shades of verbiage. (But it doesn't hurt to think of traditional spelling and punctuation as monochromatic and good to master before trying too much funky stuff.

WhyNot
08-02-2011, 12:18 AM
A lot of aspects of what are considered "proper" writing are things like capitalizing letters at the beginning of sentences, which at the end of the day are pretty arbitrary - to my mind, anyway, an uncapitalized post presents no difficulty to understanding the substance of a written statement, nor do many missing punctuation marks. Of course there should be written standards, for literature or journalism, say, but why should a written colloquium like a messageboard be held to a different standard than a spoken one, where all sorts of "non-standard" language is par for the course?


As one of the 7 email forwards my mother sends me daily pointed out:

"Capitalization is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse. "

punch line loser
08-02-2011, 12:25 AM
As one of the 7 email forwards my mother sends me daily pointed out:

"Capitalization is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse. "

Fair point, but the word "of" would do the same thing.

RickJay
08-02-2011, 12:28 AM
But it's gotten me thinking. Every so often you hear cranky professors complaining about how English has been degrading, especially in the US, and especially in the 20th century.
This is just crazy talk.

People in the English-speaking world are substantially MORE literate, and their English much more standardized, than at any other point in the entire history of our language. Yes, I get irritated by bad use of apostrophes and people who write "loose" when they mean "lose," but as English skill goes we're at a high point in terms of the average English user.

People have been whining especially about Americans polluting the language since, at least, the 18th century, and yet there is not an ounce of logic or reason behind that complaint.

Now, that isn't to say that everyone should write like Cormac McCarthy's dog. There is something to be said for clarity and I, personsally, find poor English really distracting. But the situation, on the whole, absolutely is not worse than it used to be. It's better.

Ambivalid
08-02-2011, 12:30 AM
Fair point, but the word "of" would do the same thing.

I'm just curious, what arbitrary decision made you put that comma in your sentence?

punch line loser
08-02-2011, 12:38 AM
This is just crazy talk.

People in the English-speaking world are substantially MORE literate, and their English much more standardized, than at any other point in the entire history of our language. Yes, I get irritated by bad use of apostrophes and people who write "loose" when they mean "lose," but as English skill goes we're at a high point in terms of the average English user.

People have been whining especially about Americans polluting the language since, at least, the 18th century, and yet there is not an ounce of logic or reason behind that complaint.

Now, that isn't to say that everyone should write like Cormac McCarthy's dog. There is something to be said for clarity and I, personsally, find poor English really distracting. But the situation, on the whole, absolutely is not worse than it used to be. It's better.

I agree with you, but they do complain. Elements of Style is a good example, as are annoying conversations with my dad. It's not sweeping the nation or anything, but it does come up, just as it has for centuries - I guess I happen to be most familiar with more recent complaints.

As for that comma, I would have paused there if I were speaking that sentence aloud, so I figured the written sentence should reflect that. Who cares?

pulykamell
08-02-2011, 12:54 AM
As for that comma, I would have paused there if I were speaking that sentence aloud, so I figured the written sentence should reflect that. Who cares?

So far as I can tell, that comma is correct. (You're joining two independent clauses with a conjunction.) It's certainly how I would punctuate that sentence.

Max the Immortal
08-02-2011, 01:01 AM
English is evolving. Bear in mind, though, that 99% of evolution is death. When it comes to language, that means that most new suggested words, spellings, and deviations from grammatical convention should be met with a resounding "Nah, that's stupid."

Good new words etc. should be incorporated into the language readily (a good recent example is "schadenfreude"), but let's not go nuts.

Indygrrl
08-02-2011, 01:08 AM
So far as I can tell, that comma is correct. (You're joining two independent clauses with a conjunction.) It's certainly how I would punctuate that sentence.

Yep, the comma is correct.

Language changes, and as a journalism and English student I learned the "proper" way to do everything, and now a lot of that has changed. I find it endlessly fascinating and I hope to always keep up with the new and unusual ways we express ourselves.

The only exception is when people use "of" when they mean "have," it makes me want to smack someone!:D

Argent Towers
08-02-2011, 01:14 AM
A lot of unconventional phrasings and spellings and pronunciations can still get the point across just fine. But stuff like "your" and "you're" and "its" and "it's" being used incorrectly - I think there's no excuse for that shit. It totally distorts and obscures the meaning of things and it should be called out at every single opportunity.

Little Nemo
08-02-2011, 01:20 AM
The first thing you need to do is learn what the rules are so you can make conscious decisions about when to break them.

Indygrrl
08-02-2011, 01:22 AM
A lot of unconventional phrasings and spellings and pronunciations can still get the point across just fine. But stuff like "your" and "you're" and "its" and "it's" being used incorrectly - I think there's no excuse for that shit. It totally distorts and obscures the meaning of things and it should be called out at every single opportunity.

Good luck. Calling that stuff out at every opportunity would be a full time job.

Here's a confession, I have a friggin' journalism degree and "its" and "it's" has tripped me up my whole life. I've read and reminded and studied it forever, but still......... Perhaps I'm not as smart as I've always told everyone.:)

An Gadaí
08-02-2011, 01:34 AM
But stuff like "your" and "you're" and "its" and "it's" being used incorrectly - I think there's no excuse for that shit. It totally distorts and obscures the meaning of things and it should be called out at every single opportunity.

Except that within the context of most sentences, all other things being equal they don't totally distort and obscure.

"I like you're house"

"Your going out tonight?"

"What it's name is I'm not sure but I bet its in the dictionary."

These are all irritating but perfectly comprehensible. There are of course specific instances where mixing up the terms can cause confusion as you say. I think there are just some terms that bug us and others that don't. None of us is ever going to be 100% consistent with our written language and thanks be to whatever for that.

punch line loser
08-02-2011, 01:37 AM
The first thing you need to do is learn what the rules are so you can make conscious decisions about when to break them.

Ah, but see, what are the rules?

I understand that there are rules for a standard, i.e. written form of the language, and there should be. But regional dialects, for example, will deviate from the standard constantly without being incorrect. The "have/of" issue, for instance. At this point plenty of dialects have developed where, according to that grammar, one says "of" where a standard speaker (or at any rate one versed in a different dialect) would say "have" and it has that same meaning. It's not incorrect, really, and the meaning is understood.

So whether that dialect has a place in the formal written language is one issue. But even in a more casual environment like this, someone who talks about their "could of, would of, should ofs" would probably be judged for that usage, but then this is a conversation, and aren't they just saying what they know? Everyday speech in a certain dialect doesn't say anything about someone's level of intelligence or even their education, and I think the widely-held (innocently or not) belief that it does is the result of snobbery.

Airman Doors, USAF
08-02-2011, 01:41 AM
Good luck. Calling that stuff out at every opportunity would be a full time job.

Here's a confession, I have a friggin' journalism degree and "its" and "it's" has tripped me up my whole life. I've read and reminded and studied it forever, but still......... Perhaps I'm not as smart as I've always told everyone.:)

Here. If this doesn't help, nothing will. (http://eloquentscience.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/angry-flower-guide-to-its.gif)

Indygrrl
08-02-2011, 02:10 AM
Here. If this doesn't help, nothing will. (http://eloquentscience.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/angry-flower-guide-to-its.gif)

I probably get it right 95% of the time, but I live in fear of getting busted by someone I've targeted with holier than thou grammar policing.:D

Little Nemo
08-02-2011, 02:19 AM
Here's a confession, I have a friggin' journalism degree and "its" and "it's" has tripped me up my whole life. I've read and reminded and studied it forever, but still......... Perhaps I'm not as smart as I've always told everyone.:)It's = it is (or it has).

It's is never a possessive. Unless you encounter something really strange like "I loved Cousin It's appearances on The Addams Family."

Likewise, her's and our's and your's are also wrong. I haven't seen anyone use hi's yet but I suppose I will someday.

njtt
08-02-2011, 02:31 AM
I guess, but a lot of spoken conversations are like that, aren't they? Someone's written grammar might not be perfect, but an individual's quirks in writing can be seen as an expression of their personality, which would lend a much more personal feel to a written conversation the same way someone's idiosyncrasies would contribute to a spoken one.

Spoken conversation is full of pauses, changes of tone and volume and many other variations. That is what gives it "personality". Punctuation in written English does the same sort of job (albeit imperfectly). Your written English does not gain "personality" by being unpunctuated, or inadequately punctuated, it just gets turned into a dull mush.

None of this, however, has anything to do with grammar, or with teh language changing over time. There is nothing new about people who can't, or can't be bothered to, punctuate properly. Bad (i.e., dull and unexpressive) writing has always been with us.

punch line loser
08-02-2011, 02:34 AM
I disagree with that generalization. Cormac McCarthy uses spare capitalization and punctuation and his writing is neither dull nor unexpressive.

Argent Towers
08-02-2011, 02:45 AM
Not everyone thinks that. I read two of his books, No Country for Old Men and The Road, both after watching the movies they were based on. The movies were great; the books were damn hard to get through because of his obnoxious writing style. Not for me.

Little Nemo
08-02-2011, 02:59 AM
I disagree with that generalization. Cormac McCarthy uses spare capitalization and punctuation and his writing is neither dull nor unexpressive.McCarthy is a trained professional. People shouldn't try this at home.

septimus
08-02-2011, 03:02 AM
I looked at OP's previous posts and saw nothing wrong except lack of capitalization. That lack makes it somewhat annoying and slightly difficult for me to read, but a young person, trained on twitters and tweets, might not feel that way. I think following capitalization rules is much more polite, respectable, and easier to read. But take what I say "with a grain of salt": I'm one of the anal-retentive purists who detests C code not written in The True Style™.

And I'm damned sure many Dopers find my writings much much more objectionable than yours, even though mine aren't too bad on grammar and punctuation. :rolleyes:

As one of the 7 email forwards my mother sends me daily pointed out:

"Capitalization is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse. "

My mother liked
"Time flies ... you can't ... they fly too quickly."

septimus
08-02-2011, 03:19 AM
But stuff like "your" and "you're" and "its" and "it's" being used incorrectly - I think there's no excuse for that shit. It totally distorts and obscures the meaning of things and it should be called out at every single opportunity.

I also find such misspellings annoying, but you know what? I've been doing it myself a lot lately. :smack:

And it's not ignorance about simple spelling. I do more unusual substitutions, e.g. "value" where "vowel" was intended. Two completely different words, but similar enough in spelling that they may share some brain synapses. I now have to Preview and proofread when posting here, or many of my messages would be bizarre.

I blame it partly on old age (though I consider the early 60's as still middle-aged :cool: ), but have noticed younger Dopers occasionally making similar errors. I might guess that it happens with typing but not handwriting ... but I do far too little handwriting these days to test that hypothesis.

Chou4555
08-02-2011, 03:24 AM
Fascinating thread!

My partner originates from Port Antonio, Jamaica and regularly corresponds via Facebook with her friends and relatives there. They use a sort of adaptation of English, which is usally understandable, but which corresponds largely with the way the words sound if said in a broad Jamaican twang (or accent).

I love listening to Jamaicans talk in this sort of patois, burt wince when I see it spelt out.. is that degradation or reasonable adaptation?

Indygrrl
08-02-2011, 04:29 AM
My mother liked
"Time flies ... you can't ... they fly too quickly."

Heh, that took me a sec, but I love it.

Candyman74
08-02-2011, 08:09 AM
It's doing both. And evolving.

As a whole, it's simply changing. Certain details may be decreasing, and others may be increasing; other aspects are simply changing. For example - punctuation usage might decrease, while at the same time new words are coming into play.

"Degrading" really is the wrong word to use, as it's a word which implies a lesser state; "changing" is a much better word.

Thudlow Boink
08-02-2011, 09:03 AM
I have very limited experience studying linguistics, but one of the first things I was taught in that class was that the idea of a "standard" accent or dialect of a language is more or less an invention of whomever has the most power socially, and in the end I think I agree that no variant of a language - Cockney versus London English, southern vs. northern in the US, or Quebec as opposed to Parisian French - is inherently any more "proper" or "grammatical" than another.I have limited experience too; but the point I've seen made is that dialects or variants of language (like Ebonics, Southern U.S. speech, Cockney, etc.) do have rules of their own. What may well look, to an outsider, like "degraded" language—sloppiness, disregard for the rules of proper speech—is actually a matter of following different rules and conventions. So the existence of dialects/variants should not be taken as an excuse to say that rules don't matter and anything goes, but they do mean that the rules of the "standard" dialect (or of one's own dialect) shouldn't be assumed to be The One True Speech.

Which applies to written language, too. A lot of aspects of what are considered "proper" writing are things like capitalizing letters at the beginning of sentences, which at the end of the day are pretty arbitrary - to my mind, anyway, an uncapitalized post presents no difficulty to understanding the substance of a written statement, nor do many missing punctuation marks. Of course there should be written standards, for literature or journalism, say, but why should a written colloquium like a messageboard be held to a different standard than a spoken one, where all sorts of "non-standard" language is par for the course?I think—and this has been brought up before in other threads—that some people are more auditory in their approach to language, while others are more visual. (Though I don't mean to imply that everyone is purely one or the other.)

For example, to an auditory language person, a word is essentially a set of sounds with a particular meaning, and the spelling of that word is just a way of transliterating that sound. So they have trouble distinguishing between, for example, "there" and "their" and "they're," because from an auditory standpoint they're the same. To a visual language person, a word is essentially an arrangement of letters, and its pronunciation is just a way of speaking those letters. So "there" and "their" and "they're" are obviously three different words (with "there" apparently related to "here," and "they're" obviously a contraction).

And perhaps these two types have different approaches to things like punctuation. (For example, what's a comma? Is it a symbol indicating where someone pauses in their speech, or is it a symbol used to clarify how a sentence is constructed (where the separate clauses are, for instance)?)

I suspect that you (punch line loser) are more of an auditory type, which may help explain where you're coming from on this issue.

Acid Lamp
08-02-2011, 09:30 AM
A little of both. Some of the change has been good. We've loosened up on certain stuffy rules and incorporated and adapted loads of new words and usages. On the other hand, we are also obfuscating the usage of certain words that we have not yet created a replacement for in common usage. Many terms that we consider inflammatory like "racist", for example, used to have very specific definitions. This was because there exist other terms to describe related conditions such as "discriminatory", "ethnocentric", "nationalistic", etc. Previously, people understood the differences and employed them carefully. We have degraded the language a bit here and thus we have a lot of people who assume that those terms mean whatever they want them to.

drbhoneydew
08-02-2011, 09:33 AM
Ah, but see, what are the rules?

I understand that there are rules for a standard, i.e. written form of the language, and there should be. But regional dialects, for example, will deviate from the standard constantly without being incorrect. The "have/of" issue, for instance. At this point plenty of dialects have developed where, according to that grammar, one says "of" where a standard speaker (or at any rate one versed in a different dialect) would say "have" and it has that same meaning. It's not incorrect, really, and the meaning is understood.

That's why regional dialects are said to be non-standard. Granted, the meaning is understood, but unless it is understood that today we are using non-standard features it IS incorrect. Correctness and standardised usage are two separate issues, although not entirely unrelated.


So whether that dialect has a place in the formal written language is one issue. But even in a more casual environment like this, someone who talks about their "could of, would of, should ofs" would probably be judged for that usage, but then this is a conversation, and aren't they just saying what they know? Everyday speech in a certain dialect doesn't say anything about someone's level of intelligence or even their education, and I think the widely-held (innocently or not) belief that it does is the result of snobbery.

Yes, it's snobbery up to a point, but the ability to use the correct variety of English for a given context does say things. The uber-prescriptivists will try to tell you that the correct variety at all times is described in the likes of Elements of Style, but they are spectacularly wrong. Up with them I will not put. There is always a balance to be struck between sticking (roughly) to the standard and innovating or using non-standard features.

A more relaxed standard is perfectly permissible up until the point at which you lose clarity of expression and others stop understanding you. Admittedly, that can happen even when you're using absolutely correct language according to the local style, but you will at least have been seen to be making an effort. The length of the post is roughly proportional to how strictly most sane people will hold you to the standard. To get advanced points across you may want to ensure as much linguistic common ground as possible. If I were to rewrite this post in my native dialect, with its altered grammar and Old Norse words, few (if any) of you would understand me. Reading dialect is pretty hard for them that don't speak it (and quite hard for them that do). It's a bit like how you modify your accent when you're on the phone. Mine gets markedly softer because I have to repeat things half a dozen times if I don't.

smiling bandit
08-02-2011, 10:00 AM
I say a language can experience degredation, when useful and meaningful words become vague or inexpressive. C. S. lewis wrote about one he knew of, where the word "gentleman," which had a specific social meaning, got turned into a clone fo the word "polite." That adaptation ultimately added nothing to the language, but did in fact remove a useful word in British society.

I'd also say you can have a neutral, accent-less language. It's just unlikely to be the "Queen's English" or whatever the local equivalent is. It's likely to be a relatively uninteresting polyglot with very careful speech and no emphasis. In the United States, some midwestern regions come close to this, having some of the most undistinguished speakng anywhere. :D

The Hamster King
08-02-2011, 10:13 AM
The standards ARE arbitrary, but by adhering to them you make things easier for your reader. Sure, most of the time the reader can puzzle out what you mean from the context, but why should he have to? Reading through prose that doesn't use standard grammar, capitalization, punctuation, or spelling is like walking through sticky mud -- you can still get to your destination, but the trip is more awkward and labored.

Of course, what constitutes standard prose gradually changes over time. A passage that's easy to read now will be less so in a hundred years. And even less in two hundred years. The evolution of language is natural and unavoidable. But at any given moment there will be a particular way of writing that will allow you to communicate particularly clearly. The long-term pliability of language is no excuse for not communicating effectively RIGHT NOW.

DianaG
08-02-2011, 10:17 AM
That being said, punctuation and capitalization can be used or left out for great stylistic effect.

"Oh," I said quietly.

has a rather different feel than

-oh- i said quietly.

and it's silly to limit our palette from these, often more interesting, shades of verbiage. (But it doesn't hurt to think of traditional spelling and punctuation as monochromatic and good to master before trying too much funky stuff.
Exactly. The latter is fine, if that's what you're going for. But if you want people to understand the implication of the latter, you'll have to have previously demonstrated to them your mastery of the correct form. After all, when someone who's never said anything smart says something dumb, you don't assume that they were being ironic this time.

RickJay
08-02-2011, 10:19 AM
I say a language can experience degredation, when useful and meaningful words become vague or inexpressive. C. S. lewis wrote about one he knew of, where the word "gentleman," which had a specific social meaning, got turned into a clone fo the word "polite." That adaptation ultimately added nothing to the language, but did in fact remove a useful word in British society.
But during the same period of time we've added hundreds wore words. Heck, thousands. Words go in and out of the language to be sure, but the OP refers to the sentiment that the language as a whole is losing some sort of general quality. That's just not true. Turning the meaning of the word "gentleman" into something else is offset by a zillion other additions (quite often, words stolen from other languages) and clarifications.

JohnT
08-02-2011, 10:22 AM
...But it's gotten me thinking...

It's all a matter of perspective, but I think most of my English teachers would've killed me if I constructed the above fragment... :eek:

So in honor of them, I vote that it's degrading. Though I really don't care. ;)

John Mace
08-02-2011, 10:34 AM
WTF? English is gr8. No prob, yo!

Malthus
08-02-2011, 11:31 AM
English is the language that lurks in dark alleys, knocking other languages unconcious and going through their pockets to steal vocabulary. ;)

JohnT
08-02-2011, 11:42 AM
Oh, bull. For we English speakers, there's no need to lurk in dark alleys as we are rather proud of our linguistic cannibalism (http://www.mopo.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/hannibal-lecter-hopkinsopt.jpg). :p After all, one of the things that we celebrate about Shakespeare was that he was very proficient in stealing words from other languages.

OneMissedPost
08-02-2011, 12:53 PM
English is always changing. (http://www.lsadc.org/info/ling-faqs-change.cfm) I agree with the article that I cited because people do have different language experiences. When I first took journalism classes, I had to get a crash course in grammer, spelling, etc. What used to drive me crazy was the use of hyphens. Journalism in itself is like a different language. Someone with a different background might word sentences differently or use different grammer than someone else.

Thudlow Boink
08-02-2011, 01:02 PM
For we English speakers,"For we"? :eek::p

DianaG
08-02-2011, 01:05 PM
English is always changing. (http://www.lsadc.org/info/ling-faqs-change.cfm) I agree with the article that I cited because people do have different language experiences. When I first took journalism classes, I had to get a crash course in grammer, spelling, etc. What used to drive me crazy was the use of hyphens. Journalism in itself is like a different language. Someone with a different background might word sentences differently or use different grammer than someone else.

Grammar.

:D

OneMissedPost
08-02-2011, 01:08 PM
Grammar.

:D

Yeah, I'm not the best at it. :p Oh well. :D I need to use spellcheck.

Anne Neville
08-02-2011, 01:44 PM
I say a language can experience degredation, when useful and meaningful words become vague or inexpressive. C. S. lewis wrote about one he knew of, where the word "gentleman," which had a specific social meaning, got turned into a clone fo the word "polite." That adaptation ultimately added nothing to the language, but did in fact remove a useful word in British society.

But you can't have useful change, where useful new words get added, without losing some other words. People can only remember and use so many words.

Also, I question whether it was the language or the society that changed, in that case. If nobody in a society cares any more about whether someone owns land or has a coat of arms, then "gentleman", in that sense, is not a particularly useful word. It's going to either get dropped from the language or used for some other purpose, because most speakers of English are not going to need to use it for its original purpose.

It's all a matter of perspective, but I think most of my English teachers would've killed me if I constructed the above fragment

Bah, prescriptivists. I prefer the definition of proper grammar a linguistics-major friend gave me: "A native speaker said it, and another native speaker understood what it meant."

Swords to Plowshares
08-02-2011, 02:05 PM
18th and 19th century vernacular was probably as much of an abomination to proper language as today's is.

Keep in mind that back in the day, if you could read and write then you were probably very well educated. Nowadays, most everyone can read and write at some level, but the levels can vary widely.

smiling bandit
08-02-2011, 04:51 PM
But you can't have useful change, where useful new words get added, without losing some other words. People can only remember and use so many words.

Also, I question whether it was the language or the society that changed, in that case. If nobody in a society cares any more about whether someone owns land or has a coat of arms, then "gentleman", in that sense, is not a particularly useful word. It's going to either get dropped from the language or used for some other purpose, because most speakers of English are not going to need to use it for its original purpose.

In response to you and RickJay-

Both of your points are correct but don't apply in this case. We still have an use the word gentleman; it's just very limited. We not only do know more words over time (the English language has increased its vocabulary considerably, more words are used on a daily basis.

And in this particular case, the language did change, not society. Even today the old word gentleman could have the same meaning in England that it did two centuries ago. Not in America, of course, which is why I'm not talking about America here.

Apollyon
08-02-2011, 05:07 PM
Oh, bull. For we English speakers, there's no need to lurk in dark alleys as we are rather proud of our linguistic cannibalism (http://www.mopo.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/hannibal-lecter-hopkinsopt.jpg). :pI think Malthus is referencing a quote on the "purity" of English:

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary
(Wiki link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Nicoll))

Apollyon
08-02-2011, 05:17 PM
Just to add an interesting link, since Strunk was referenced up-thread...

50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice (http://chronicle.com/article/50-Years-of-Stupid-Grammar/25497/).

Malthus
08-02-2011, 05:17 PM
I think Malthus is referencing a quote on the "purity" of English:


(Wiki link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Nicoll))

Yup, though I'd forgotten to whom the quote ought to be attributed. Thanks! :)

Peremensoe
08-02-2011, 05:21 PM
But you can't have useful change, where useful new words get added, without losing some other words. People can only remember and use so many words.

The language doesn't have to lose words because of an individual speaker's limits. The language has long included more working words than any one of us ever uses.