If we go back two hundred years to Melville, Dickens, Hawthorne et al. the language has certainly changed and simplified.
Changed, certainly; it would be amazing if it hadn’t. Simplified? Well, in some ways yes, of course. Nobody now – even if he or she was being paid by the word - would elect to start a popular novel with a ponderous Latinate one-sentence paragraph like this example:
Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.
Do you think they ought to? Is that the kind of writing you look for in contemporary fiction? Would you even consider the use of semicolons to be correct?
The only evidence I have concerning older literature versus modern is that the classics possess more challenging words, the scenery and characters are more fleshed out, everything in general is more descriptive.
And that’s no evidence at all. We should expect established literary classics, that have been read and admired for generations, to be better than the average of our day just as they were better than the average of their own day. That, after all, is why they are classics. Stephenie Meyer vs. W Faulkner is not a fair or meaningful comparison; go find a representative selection of the pulp and romantic fiction of Faulkner’s day – the kind of stuff emotional adolescent girls were lapping up - and if you can show that kind of material to possess ‘more challenging words’, ‘scenery and characters more fleshed out’, et cetera, you may have a case.
I also referred to the ubiquity of profanity in today’s language. Do you consider it to be deterioration or a progression? Again, I’m not concerned so much with profanity as I am with the repetitiveness of certain expletives, such as the “F” word used as an adjective, noun, gerund, verb etc. Do you honestly think that this is progression?
I don’t think it is even much of a change. I refer you to the celebrated poem The Great Australian Adjective, by W T Goodge, published in 1898:
The sunburnt bloody stockman stood
And in a dismal bloody mood
Apostrophised his bloody cuddy;
“The bloody nag’s no bloody good,
He couldn’t earn his bloody food -
A regular bloody brumby.
He jumped across the bloody horse
And cantered off, of bloody course,
The roads were bad and bloody muddy;
Said he, “Well spare me bloody days
The bloody Government’s bloody ways
Are screamin’ bloody funny.
He rode uphill, down bloody dale,
The wind, it blew a bloody gale,
The creek was high and bloody floody.
Said he, “The bloody horse must swim.
The same for bloody me and him,
It’s somethin’ bloody sickenin’.
He plunged into the bloody creek,
The bloody nag was bloody weak,
The stockman’s face a bloody study!
And though the bloody horse was drowned
The bloody rider reached the ground
Okay, that was a skit specifically on Australian speech habits; but a century ago there were certainly other parts of the English-speaking world where certain classes of society used a profanity in every sentence. The only material difference is that the habit has spread to classes that used not to use them so freely – and that’s a social rather than a language change .