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Evolution of language
Posted: 11 July 2013 12:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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As I illustrated in my previous comment that if one thinks Stephenie Meyer is as great a writer as W. Faulkner I can’t argue with that illogical opinion.

- Richard, on previous page.

I don’t want Dave to spend sleepless nights worrying about standards on the board, but if we no longer take issue with an illogical opinion, there is cause for concern.

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Posted: 11 July 2013 12:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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Laulu:

I, and many others, do enjoy and learn and prefer classical literature.  You obviously do not. What you refer to as, “ponderous sentences” might be regarded by others as incredible creative writing.

Cormac McCarthy is a contemporary writer who uses long sentences with very elaborate descriptions. He is a best-selling author and obviously there are many people who enjoy his works.

By the way, Faulkner is considered a modern writer and many of his sentences are paragraphs in length. In fact, he wrote the longest sentence in literature, which is over 1,000 words.  I have to assume that you would also find him ponderous.  I do agree, however, that Faulkner and Joyce can be ponderous to read, but the writing is ingenious and intellectually rewarding.

I claimed that classic literature is more descriptive and contains a deeper vocabulary. You seem to refute that, but yet your refutation is contradictory, because you admitted that classics are more ponderous with endless sentences. What you refer to as ponderous is essentially elaborate sentence structure with careful attention to detail.

Regarding older literature, I did bring up the example of Burroughs’, Tarzan of the Apes, which is not considered great writing, (it was first published in a pulp magazine) but the writing is certainly superior to anything written today in that category. H.P. Lovecraft is another writer who wrote for pulp magazines and was relatively an unknown writer during his time. He has quite a following today and is considered the greatest of all horror fiction writers rivaled only by Edgar Allan Poe. He was a master of poetic language and he attained unusually high literary standards for his genre. He also possessed a prodigious vocabulary. Thus, to use your argument if Stephenie Meyer is given the same recognition one hundred years from now then we can agree that the standards have lowered. 

Regarding profanity, you submitted one poem with one profanity, but I wasn’t referring exclusively to literature in my argument. I was referring to speech and writing.

First, censorship was far more inflexible years ago than today. For this reason writing was not as profuse with profanity as it is today. 
Second, in the past vulgarity in speech was exclusive to the lower classes, whereas today it is very common amongst the upper and educated classes.

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Posted: 11 July 2013 12:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness....

-- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_was_a_dark_and_stormy_night

Lionel Fanthorpe, aka Karl Ziegfried, a.k.a, Bron Fane a.k.a John E.Muller, a.k.a Leo Brett, a.k.a Pel Torro, wrote 89 of his books in a three year period. That’s one every 12 days, while holding down a teaching job. He is a master:

Excerpt from BY THE SEVEN GREEN MOONS OF GONGLE! by Ken DeVries (a review of Galaxy 666 by Pel Torro)

...The things were odd, weird, grotesque. There was something horribly uncustomary and unwonted about them. They were completely unfamiliar. Their appearance was outlandish and extraordinary. here was something quite phenomenal about them. They were supernormal; they were unparalleled; they were unexampled. The shape of the aliens was singular in every sense. They were curious, odd, queer, peculiar and fantastic, and yet when every adjective had been used on them, when every preternatural epithet had been applied to their aberrant and freakish appearance, when everything that could be said about such eccentric, exceptional, anomalous creatures had been said, they still remained indescribable in any concrete terms....

-- http://home.pacifier.com/~dkossy/gal666.html

[ Edited: 11 July 2013 01:34 AM by sobiest ]
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Posted: 11 July 2013 01:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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I’d like to explain my analogy about the Faulkner, Meyer comparison. 

What I was trying to express, but perhaps in a condescending way, was that I cannot change someone’s opinion with a stronger opinion. I was alluding to the decline of language.  For this reason I referred to the Latin expression de gustibus non est disputandum, “there is no disputing of tastes”. For example, if one thinks that vulgarity in speech or writing, or that fillers such as, like and kind of, are not an indication of decline, then I have no argument. We’re still debating opinions; I think Faulkner, others think Meyer.

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Posted: 11 July 2013 03:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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Opinions are fine.  Stating them as fact is not.

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Posted: 11 July 2013 03:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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Again, I must ask, who exactly has said that Stephenie Meyer is a better writer than William Faulkner?

No one on this thread has said it, and I doubt that anyone in the history of the world has ever seriously maintained this opinion. So please stop repeating it. You’re just making an ass of yourself.

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Posted: 11 July 2013 04:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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"A brick is not a wall.” That’s the maxim many law school professors use to describe the role of a single piece of evidence in the larger edifice of a case. As with any case, the current discussion seems to consist of a larger assertion accompanied by smaller pieces of evidence. Let’s not mix up the bricks and mortar with the entire wall, however.

Richard has said that Stephanie Meyer is not as great a writer as William Faulkner. This is not a very good argument (it’s a faulty brick) because Meyer is a popular novelist whose books appealed primarily to females under the age of thirty* while Faulkner was never popular in the sense of making large amounts of money from book and movie sales. Instead, Faulkner made money by writing scripts for movies. He famously was given a Hemingway novel, like To Have and Have Not, to turn into a script because he was a cheaper employee than Ernest. The correct mode of argument, IMHO, is to compare Stephanie Meyer with someone like Marie Corelli who is today entirely forgotten but who in her lifetime outsold all the “greats” of fiction writing. Anyway, more people today can read and write than at any time in the past. The problem may be that the 99% today who are educated are not as literate as the 10-50% of years gone by who formed the reading public.

The larger wall is hard to encompass. However, it seems pretty easy to do a statistical analysis of vocabulary between texts of equal social register. Dickens was very popular in Victorian England. I bet he beats out Stephanie Meyer and Dan Brown any day.

*If you don’t believe this, walk into any bookstore and ask who used to buy Stephanie Meyer books.

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Posted: 11 July 2013 06:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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Computers have certainly experienced this same “retrograde” evolution. They’ve gone from being richly complex things that only the truly literate could use or appreciate into little toys that every idiot can use and carry around in their pocket. I miss the good old days.

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Posted: 11 July 2013 08:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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It’s also instructive that we are discussing novelists as examples of great and elevated writing. (I’m speaking of Faulkner and Dickens here, not Meyer and Brown.) Yet the eighteenth century is awash with screeds descrying how novels were corrupting the youth, particularly young women (shades of Stephenie Meyer again), and that no respectable person should be reading them. Novels were low entertainment for those who were literate, but socially and chronologically immature.

Moral panics about the state of language and of reading are nothing new. And much of what we hold up today as excellent literature, would have been burned in previous eras as crap. (And we’ve seen the same thing regarding movies, TV, comic books, the web, Google, texting, the list goes on.)

Again, you can dislike the new fashions, but unless you present objective data, you can’t speak of deterioration or decline.

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Posted: 11 July 2013 10:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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It’s also instructive that we are discussing novelists as examples of great and elevated writing. (I’m speaking of Faulkner and Dickens here, not Meyer and Brown.) Yet the eighteenth century is awash with screeds descrying how novels were corrupting the youth, particularly young women (shades of Stephenie Meyer again), and that no respectable person should be reading them. Novels were low entertainment for those who were literate, but socially and chronologically immature.

You said it. I was just going to point out that Faulkner, Joyce, and many others were rebelling against what they saw as their stodgy, rigid predecessors.

Nevertheless, I think Richard’s inquiry holds a lot of value.

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Posted: 11 July 2013 11:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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Nevertheless, I think Richard’s inquiry holds a lot of value.

I disagree. I see it as just curmudgeonly kvetching.

A inquiry of value would be one that defines what it is going after and then pursues its goal with analytical rigor. Are we talking about grammar and usage? Are we talking about diction? Are we talking about literary style? Richard is just lumping all his complaints indiscriminately into the English-is-going-to-hell basket.

The only reason I’m posting on this thread is to try and make this point clear to others. I consider Richard a lost cause.

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Posted: 11 July 2013 11:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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Iron Pyrite - 11 July 2013 10:27 AM


...Nevertheless, I think Richard’s inquiry holds a lot of value.

I think there is some merit to the inquiry--curmudgeonly kvetching notwithstanding.

In Orwell’s novel, Ninteen Eighty-Four, a case was made for the intentional deconstruction of language:


...  When Oldspeak had been once and for all superseded, the last link
with the past would have been severed. History had already been
rewritten, but fragments of the literature of the past survived here
and there, imperfectly censored, and so long as one retained one’s
knowledge of Oldspeak it was possible to read them. In the future such
fragments, even if they chanced to survive, would be unintelligible
and untranslatable. It was impossible to translate any passage of
Oldspeak into Newspeak unless it either referred to some technical
process or some very simple everyday action, or was already orthodox
(goodthinkful would be the Newspeak expression) in tendency. In
practice this meant that no book written before approximately 1960
could be translated as a whole. Pre-revolutionary literature could
only be subjected to ideological translation — that is, alteration in
sense as well as language. Take for example the well-known passage
from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain
inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are
instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the
governed. That whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of
those ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it, and
to institute new Government...

It would have been quite impossible to render this into Newspeak while
keeping to the sense of the original. The nearest one could come to
doing so would be to swallow the whole passage up in the single word
crimethink. A full translation could only be an ideological
translation, whereby Jefferson’s words would be changed into a
panegyric on absolute government.
A good deal of the literature of the past was, indeed, already being
transformed in this way. Considerations of prestige made it desirable
to preserve the memory of certain historical figures, while at the
same time bringing their achievements into line with the philosophy of
Ingsoc. Various writers, such as Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Byron,
Dickens, and some others were therefore in process of translation:
when the task had been completed, their original writings, with all
else that survived of the literature of the past, would be destroyed.
These translations were a slow and difficult business, and it was not
expected that they would be finished before the first or second decade
of the twenty-first century. There were also large quantities of
merely utilitarian literature — indispensable technical manuals, and
the like — that had to be treated in the same way. It was chiefly in
order to allow time for the preliminary work of translation that the
final adoption of Newspeak had been fixed for so late a date as
2050....

-- http://www.newspeakdictionary.com/ns-prin.html

And,

Winston Smith described doublethink in the novel:


“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness
while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two
opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and
believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate
morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was
impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget
whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory
again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it
again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself.
That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness,
and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you
had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved
the use of doublethink.”

-- http://www.newspeakdictionary.com/ns-dict.html#crimethink

.

In that novel, this deconstruction of language was intentional and directed.

However, in my opinion, decrying a process in the natural evolution of language to be devolution won’t make much difference in the long run.

Faldage - 09 July 2013 02:53 PM

The composers issue is a good point, but not necessarily for the proposition that everything is deteriorating.  Many composers were greeted in their time with accusations of writing crap.  Some of it was crap and has not survived and some of it was just ahead of its time and is now considered normal, even stodgy.  Modern crap has not yet been weeded out so we hear stuff that won’t be heard by people several hundred years from now.

I am constantly astonished at the quality of much contemporary music. Some of it’s crap; some of it’s excellent--and some good portion of it is genius. Only if there were a functioning time machine, could we be certain which is to be which.


As we say Sensation, we might say also, Ideation; it would be a very useful word; and there is no objection to it, except the pedantic habit of decrying a new term.

-- James Mill, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, Vol. I, London, 1829, page 42.

Link

or

Link

[ Edited: 11 July 2013 02:55 PM by sobiest ]
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Posted: 11 July 2013 02:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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I think the idea of devolution in language is just as bankrupt as the idea of devolution in biology. The term is misnomer “because it presumes that there is a preferred hierarchy of structure and function, and that evolution must mean “progress” to “more advanced” - Wikipedia - Devolution (biology)

Evolution doesn’t have a direction, there is no forward/reverse, there is simply change over time. Any characterization of that change as “devolution” is nothing more than a smear tactic.

[ Edited: 11 July 2013 02:15 PM by happydog ]
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Posted: 11 July 2013 02:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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Dave,

I’ve tried, with a little difficulty, to maintain a certain civility to my posts. You on the other hand have taken a more aggressive and condescending attitude. Furthermore, some of your members exude a patronizing attitude when commenting about my post. Note, that I’ve refrained from my usual vituperative condemnations, because I understand that that kind discourse is counterproductive.

I’ve already explained in a previous post the Faulkner/Meyer comparison. I only referred to Meyer, because you initially mentioned her in one of your posts. I could have made the same comparison with Dan Brown or Jackie Collins.  Of course I understand that no one has made such a claim, and that the claim would be ludicrous. But that’s not the point! Talk about straw man tactics, you’ve set a perfect example. You’re applying contextomy to all of your arguments.

The point I’m trying to make, although unsuccessfully, is that if somebody thinks that Ms.Meyer or D.Brown, or anyone of that ilk, is a superior writer to Faulkner, or to Joyce, or to Steinbeck, or to Hemingway, that person has a right to his opinion. Have I made myself clear? It seems that every statement I make is dissected, criticized, and taken out of context by everyone.  This deviates from the initial and main point of the debate.  Are you and your supporters—which include everyone on this forum—going to scrutinize every metaphor, pun, and figure of speech that I submit? It undermines the debate and it’s irrelevant. 

You’ve come up with a lot of constructive, and instructive, information in your penultimate e-mail addressed to me, and you’ve made quite a few valuable points. I need time to respond.  You’re demanding evidence or data and I will try my best to accommodate you, but you know very well that that will not alter your mindset.

Can you provide me with data that language is not deteriorating? Can you offer a link that would provide me with that sort of information? I don’t think so, for I too might not be able to present you with data to support my position. I can, however, provide data on the decline in vocabulary test scores, which indirectly supports my position.

I understand that there is a difference between evidence and data, but if there is enough evidence we have to assume that proof has been established. I think that there is enough evidence to support my position.

What do I mean by “challenging words”?  You know very well what I mean; you’re very well acquainted with the English language and you have, I assume, common sense.  For you to claim that certain words might be challenging for some people, but not for others, is a vague and disingenuous statement. Ultracrepadarian and pandiculation are challenging words for everyone, not just for the people who can’t define them. Let’s be serious. My point was very clear. I realize that I’m using specifically difficult words to exaggerate my point, but it seems I must present an explanation for every letter, word, and sentence that I transcribe.

Below is a link that further supports my position. You only have to read the first two paragraphs.

https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

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Posted: 11 July 2013 03:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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It seems that every statement I make is dissected, criticized, and taken out of context by everyone.

Richard,

I think I was critical of you in a so called positive way. I am not in one hundred percent agreement with Dave, nor do I know if everyone else is. However, Dave’s point seems to be that bringing in statistical evidence would best remedy some weaknesses in the case you present, and I suggested one simple methodology. I don’t have the time or technical knowledge to do it.

I would like to stress that I made a few important points.

1. The level of literacy has increased throughout the population in terms of the percent of population who can somewhat understand the system of writing in symbols we call letters. More accurately, you could say the level of illiteracy has decreased.

2. The combined average ability or skill level of all literate people is undoubtedly lower today than it was at any time in the history of reading and writing, precisely because fewer people in the past on a per capita basis were able to read and write. The ones who could do it did it better because they were the elite. Think about this. This has massive implications for your argument. It suggests that there were two major levels of language development over the course of millennia, among the literate and among the illiterate. Why the hell else do you think that Latin lost most of its inflections on the road to Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Romanian?*

3. Language and literature are not all one dumping ground. There are different levels. Compare equal levels. Think about this, then. I assume you are arguing at a minimum that deterioration of language is possible. In that scenario, you would need to posit higher and lower levels of language and literature.

Look, I’m with you. I see high school students who have an academic vocabulary of about 500 words if you’re lucky but who can tell you every minor difference between the popular makes of shoes. Language is largely a product of the society that creates it, and I’m not very enchanted with what I see coming down the pike. I do own a TV, after all, and I keep swearing I’m going to cancel my cable subscription.

*edit: I should explain that clearly there were illiterate people (those who couldn’t read) who not only spoke inflected Latin and other IE languages but whose illiterate ancestors created the languages. The central mystery in this inquiry is exactly how did they do it and then why did it all fall apart, in terms of grammatical complexity? My own theory is that during pre-historic periods we had long expanses of time with plenty of mental leisure to devote to great things like oral formulaic poetry. Grammatical complexity was a boon. Then, other more pressing things arose during the first millennium like interminable warfare, growing population pressures, huge upheavals in society, and the march of technology, religion, world exploration, and so on. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the literate were the preservers of the old ways because they were the ones with money and power, which meant they had leisure time to devote to culture. But it took only one William the Conqueror to destroy the inflections of Anglo-Saxon, wihin a few generations.

In a strange way, one could blame the fracturing of intellectual society on the very advent of writing. It seems pretty self evident that as literacy has increased, society has fallen more apart. :-)

[ Edited: 11 July 2013 04:47 PM by Iron Pyrite ]
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