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Proper use of the English Language is in Decline
Posted: 23 August 2013 10:24 AM   [ Ignore ]
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http://quartetbooks.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/my-weekend-review-proper-use-of-the-english-language-is-in-decline/

An article, with data, that agrees with my contention on the decline in language; with the support of Michael McCarthy professor of linguistics at the University of Nottingham.

Regardless, I’m not arguing the decline issue--too arduous a task on this forum--I’m just submitting an article that has some value concerning the decline in language formality, a decline in grammar usage, and the loss of elegance in our language.

Note: I’m expecting a condemnatory rebuttal from Dave, but I’m only the messenger.

[ Edited: 12 September 2013 03:01 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 23 August 2013 10:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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There is no evidence here that English is “in decline.” Rather, there is evidence that use of informal registers of English are increasing and formal registers are becoming less common. I don’t think anyone disputes that. But that is not “decline” in any objective sense and has nothing to do with correctness. Don’t confuse “formal” and “proper/correct.”

One is, of course, free to object to such informal registers by those in public life, but that’s a personal opinion.

The days seem to have gone when debates in Parliament by such dominant figures as Winston Churchill and Aneurin Bevan used to be a master class in elocution and a revelation of the richness of the language.

I’m not acquainted with Bevan, but Churchill is clearly in a rarefied class when it comes to oratory. To say that we don’t have any Churchills today is like saying we don’t have any Shakespeares. Figures like that come along so rarely. And we do have some extraordinary speakers and rhetoricians today; they’re not Churchill, but they’re good. Barack Obama springs instantly to mind. Bill Clinton can and Ronald Reagan could exercise the language powerfully and effectively. Jesse Jackson is another. Whatever you think of their politics, no one can deny that they are not masters at delivering speeches.

Part of the problem is familiarity and selective remembrance. With the internet and 24-hour cable news we’re bombarded with political oratory nowadays, most of it not especially well done (e.g., George W. Bush). When we think back on the great rhetoricians of the past, we’re only thinking of the very best speeches. Seventy years ago most oratory and political speech was just as bad as it is today, only it wasn’t recorded and relatively few people heard it. So it’s no wonder that we have the impression that oratory isn’t as good as it once was.

And remember that in his 1946 “Politics and the English Language” Orwell was bitching about how political rhetoric had declined, and that was the age of Churchill and Bevan. Same as it ever was.

[ Edited: 23 August 2013 11:02 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 23 August 2013 11:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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One of the things that jumped out at me is, I think, indicative of the whole issue.

The article states: One thing that might not come as a surprise is the decline in the correct use of grammar.

This statement is then backed up by this “evidence:” ‘We can listen to debates in Parliament and hear MPs saying things like “gonna” instead of “going to”‘ he said.

I think labeling “gonna” as bad grammar indicates a lack of understanding of the difference between style and grammar.

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Posted: 23 August 2013 01:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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All that’s here to support a notion of decline is a linguist using “lazy” and “sloppy” to describe Prince Charles’s usage in a single radio interview. Those aren’t words linguists normally use when speaking precisely. The linguist, McCarthy, gave those quotes to a reporter—I highly doubt that McCarthy would use such terms when writing about language. It doesn’t tell us anything other than one should choose one’s words very carefully when speaking with reporters. (And perhaps this is another example of someone speaking informally, but in this case to deleterious effect.)

Note that the blog fails to point to the source of its information. It is a London Times article by Oliver Moody from 18 May 2013, “English like it never should of been, Language is becoming more democratic as even MPs fail to speak properly, a study from Cambridge reveals” p. 3. (Note the clever headline with “should of,” although the headline writer evidently doesn’t understand what a “study” is. There is no “study,” at least not one that is referenced anywhere. The article is about the Cambridge English Corpus, which is a research tool.)

The blog also plagiarizes the Times article rather shamelessly, including the opening line of the blog, which is the title of the source article. This plagiarism is, in my opinion, a far more grievous offense than saying “gonna.” And it’s stunning coming from someone claiming to be a publisher.

[ Edited: 23 August 2013 01:30 PM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 23 August 2013 04:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I think labeling “gonna” as bad grammar indicates a lack of understanding of the difference between style and grammar.

What is stylistic about “gonna”? I’m curious. If “gonna” is not bad grammar, which I’ve also seen transcribed that way, then what is? Whatever you want to label it it’s sloppy.

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Posted: 23 August 2013 05:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Richard - 23 August 2013 04:46 PM

I think labeling “gonna” as bad grammar indicates a lack of understanding of the difference between style and grammar.

What is stylistic about “gonna”? I’m curious. If “gonna” is not bad grammar, which I’ve also seen transcribed that way, then what is? Whatever you want to label it it’s sloppy.

I gotta agree with Happydog, Richard.
I feel awkward agreeing with a “Happydog” but the style is indeed casual.
Notwithstanding my timidity in casually calling you “Dick”.

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Posted: 23 August 2013 09:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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[

quote]

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“Dave Wilton” date="1377302348">There is no evidence here that English is “in decline.” Rather, there is evidence that use of informal registers of English are increasing and formal registers are becoming less common. I don’t think anyone disputes that. But that is not “decline” in any objective sense and has nothing to do with correctness. Don’t confuse “formal” and “proper/correct.”

That’s disputable, the article clearly emphasizes a decline and many think it to be in decline. You’re getting into semantics and relativism; it’s beginning to be a question of standards.

i

‘I’m not acquainted with Bevan, but Churchill is clearly in a rarefied class when it comes to oratory. To say that we don’t have any Churchills today is like saying we don’t have any Shakespeares. Figures like that come along so rarely. And we do have some extraordinary speakers and rhetoricians today; they’re not Churchill, but they’re good. Barack Obama springs instantly to mind. Bill Clinton can and Ronald Reagan could exercise the language powerfully and effectively. Jesse Jackson is another. Whatever you think of their politics, no one can deny that they are not masters at delivering speeches.

Regarding the above mentioned American Presidents you claim that they are “extraordinary”, synonymous with, remarkable, sensational, phenomenal etc. but then you lower that estimation by referring to them as being just, “good”. I agree with the latter.

I question your rational, however, by your preposterous inclusion of Jesse Jackson in that group.  There is actually a radio show that awards any listener who can decipher a recording of two or three words by Mr. Jackson. Because his speech pattern is dreadfully mumbled and incomprehensible very few listeners can guess what he said.

I ardently agree with the article; standards in speech, writing, and grammar have drastically lowered and in those areas we seem to be striving for the lowest common denominator. But then:  De gustibus non est disputandum.

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Posted: 23 August 2013 09:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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De gustibus non est disputandum.

If that’s the case, can’t we leave off this tiresome “English is in decline” - “No, it isn’t” - “yes, it is” - “isn’t” - “is” - “isn’t” argument, and talk about something interesting?

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Posted: 24 August 2013 04:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Gonna = going to

There is absolutely no distinction in grammatical function. One is not any more or less precise than the other in communicating the thought. The only difference is whether you are speaking in a formal or informal register.

The question is, what makes “good” grammar? In the end, grammar is simply a bunch of arbitrary rules. One is not any objectively “better” than another. Using words like “sloppy” is simply the insertion of your own aesthetic tastes into the argument. Yes, “gonna” is easier to articulate, but why is that “bad”?

My last word on the subject: “decline” assumes that there was golden age, where language was perfect (or at least a lot better). But there is no evidence for such a state. Instead, what we have is simply change with no objective improvement or deterioration. Take Latin as an example. The classical language of Virgil and Ovid is taken as the standard. But actually, few if anyone actually spoke in that dialectal register. The plebeians spoke a demotic (vulgar) Latin and the patricians largely spoke and wrote in Greek. Eventually the demotic dialect of Latin evolved into what we now know as the Romance languages. But would you really considered French to be a debased and deteriorated language? The situation with modern English is not all that different, except the difference between formal and informal registers isn’t all that great. Currently, the formal register is falling out of favor. This trend could continue, it could halt, or it could even reverse itself. But whatever happens, the language will be no better or worse off by any objective measure.

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Posted: 24 August 2013 06:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Dave Wilton - 24 August 2013 04:32 AM

Gonna = going to

There is absolutely no distinction in grammatical function. One is not any more or less precise than the other in communicating the thought. The only difference is whether you are speaking in a formal or informal register.

You could even argue that saying “Good-bye” is a sign of laziness and proves that the language has been going into decline for hundreds of years.

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Posted: 24 August 2013 09:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Dave Wilton - 24 August 2013 04:32 AM

Gonna = going to

There is absolutely no distinction in grammatical function. One is not any more or less precise than the other in communicating the thought. The only difference is whether you are speaking in a formal or informal register.

The question is, what makes “good” grammar? In the end, grammar is simply a bunch of arbitrary rules. One is not any objectively “better” than another. Using words like “sloppy” is simply the insertion of your own aesthetic tastes into the argument. Yes, “gonna” is easier to articulate, but why is that “bad”?

There is a definite distinction in grammatical function: I’m going to the theatre, makes perfect sense, but, I’m gonna theatre, does not, it is ambiguous.

Whatever makes “good grammar” is precisely those arbitrary rules that you so ardently follow, because if you did not and utilized the type of slang that you passionately defend your forum would not be taken seriously.

If you think grammar is simply a bunch of arbitrary rules ,and you question what makes good grammar, then practice what you preach; don’t follow the rules.
If following the rules is the only way to be taken seriously in academia, and for publication, then that certainly seems to be an indication on what is educated speech and non-educated speech; namely, the correct way, if one desires a better career, or “sloppy” English if one doesn’t really care.

Apropos: 
“Well, no one ever said that linguistics can settle questions of usage; the issue is whether it can offer important insight, so that a prescriptivist is better off knowing linguistics than being ignorant of it.” Steven Pinker

“People who cannot distinguish between good and bad language, or who regard the distinction as unimportant, are unlikely to think carefully about anything else.”
― B.R. Myers

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Posted: 24 August 2013 11:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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"I’m gonna the theatre” isn’t acceptable because “gonna” is invaribly used before a verb, eg “gonna go, gonna help” etc. Usage has dictated the rule, and where usage rules today, grammar follows tomorrow.

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Posted: 25 August 2013 04:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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ElizaD - 24 August 2013 11:18 PM

“I’m gonna the theatre” isn’t acceptable because “gonna” is invaribly used before a verb, eg “gonna go, gonna help” etc. .

It’s odd that children can work all this out but, apparently, some adults cannot.

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Posted: 25 August 2013 12:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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ElizaD - 24 August 2013 11:18 PM

“I’m gonna the theatre” isn’t acceptable because “gonna” is invaribly used before a verb, eg “gonna go, gonna help” etc. Usage has dictated the rule, and where usage rules today, grammar follows tomorrow.

Well, then you’re agreeing with me; I’m flattered and flabbergasted, or perhaps confused.

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Posted: 25 August 2013 02:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Confused.

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Posted: 25 August 2013 03:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Richard - 25 August 2013 12:29 PM

ElizaD - 24 August 2013 11:18 PM
“I’m gonna the theatre” isn’t acceptable because “gonna” is invaribly used before a verb, eg “gonna go, gonna help” etc. Usage has dictated the rule, and where usage rules today, grammar follows tomorrow.

Well, then you’re agreeing with me; I’m flattered and flabbergasted, or perhaps confused.

Not only is it not acceptable, it’s not used, at least not with the pronunciation /gɵnʌ/*.  Maybe more with something like /goʊnʌ/.

*Not sure about the IPA representation of that first vowel sound.

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