Guardian Article on Language Decline
Posted: 16 August 2019 05:32 AM   [ Ignore ]
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A concise debunking of the myth that the English language is on the decline.

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Posted: 16 August 2019 08:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I would guess that it’s us old folks who tend to be to ones who think it is declining the most. We just can’t keep up with the changes. The biggest thing I’ve learned here is that language is constantly changing. Not declining.

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Posted: 17 August 2019 03:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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They are using slang words and ignoring grammar,” Marie Clair, of the Plain English Campaign, told the Daily Mail. “Their language is deteriorating. They are lowering the bar. Our language is flying off at all tangents, without the anchor of a solid foundation.”

The defender of old time virtue has presented us with a dog’s breakfast of
metaphors:  high jumping (lowering the bar), aeronautics (flying off...), and a nautical term sunk into
the building trades.  Were she American, one might take her for an intellectual of the trumpenproletariat.
She inspires me to re-read Orwell’s essay about dead metaphors and their contribution to the inexorable decay
of the language.  Here’s an illustrative snippet:

DYING METAPHORS. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying.

The entire essay is here:
https://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit

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Posted: 17 August 2019 04:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Orwell’s essay (cited in the Guardian article) is a classic example of an old fart complaining about language decline. Not only is it a “get off my lawn” type rant (well-written, but a rant nonetheless), but he doesn’t apply his own rules to his own writing. For instance, he complains about the passive voice, but is seemingly unaware that he himself is overusing it.

People keep bringing this essay up as either “proof” that the language is declining or as guidance for how to write well. It is neither.

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Posted: 17 August 2019 05:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Dave Wilton - 17 August 2019 04:58 AM

Orwell’s essay (cited in the Guardian article) is a classic example of an old fart complaining about language decline. Not only is it a “get off my lawn” type rant (well-written, but a rant nonetheless), but he doesn’t apply his own rules to his own writing. For instance, he complains about the passive voice, but is seemingly unaware that he himself is overusing it.

People keep bringing this essay up as either “proof” that the language is declining or as guidance for how to write well. It is neither.

Precisely!  The essay begins with a lament—more lucid than Marie Caire’s—about the decline of the language.  Orwell then sets out his guidance to remedy the decline, while violating most of his own edicts.

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Posted: 19 August 2019 10:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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A concise debunking of the myth that the English language is on the decline.

I concur, the English language is not in decline, but there are some people with stylistic and aesthetic preferences who might think that people who do not express themselves with similar preferences are degrading the language.  Shariatmadari’s well-informed article; a précis on the demystification of language decline, is an iteration we’ve heard many times before; he just delivers it with a different pen.

I do have a few questions

He postulates: 

But if change is constant, why do we end up with a standard language at all? Well, think about the institutions that define standard language: universities, newspapers, broadcasters, the literary establishment. They are mostly controlled by middle-aged people.

This might be true, but it’s the establishment that he belongs to; it’s the dialect he uses. I understand it’s a dialect he must use in order to get his works published; moreover, it’s also a formal register that would be more comprehensible to non-native speakers of English. Is he intimating that if we get rid of middle-aged people who control those institutions we can ultimately do away with standard language? I’m confused by his message. The fact remains that Standard English is indelible, vulnerable to change, but nevertheless a form that will always be identified as the prestige dialect; therefore, the endless disagreements on the decline of the English language will be equally as indelible.
I partly agree with what he’s saying, but I think that what pedants think of as a decline might be focused more on the aesthetics and stylistic differences in language.  This opens up a discussion that everything is relative; therefore, inconsequential and that the use of language is primarily an exercise in power.

Any given language is significantly reconfigured over the centuries, to the extent that it becomes totally unrecognisable. [Sic]

How many centuries is he referring to?  Chaucer’s writing, which goes back seven hundred years is unrecognizable, but is it totally unrecognizable?  Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, are all 17th century writers whose writings are completely recognizable approximately four hundred years later.

Some forms that become wildly popular, such as Kim Kardashian’s vocal fry, although prestigious for some, are derided by others. One study found that “young adult female voices exhibiting vocal fry are perceived as less competent, less educated, less trustworthy, less attractive and less hireable”. [Sic]

I don’t think Kardashian’s vocal fry is wildly popular; it’s an evanescent affectation. Who would consider the form prestigious? Why would they think it prestigious? Furthermore, Shariatmadari’s assertion would imply that there are different levels of language prestige, which can be true, but it challenges his and others previous claims that standard language—the language of prestige and empowerment—is defined by universities, the literary establishment, but certainly not by Kardashian’s vocal fry. 

The hard truth is that English, like all other languages, is constantly evolving. It is the speed of the change, within our own short lives, that creates the illusion of decline.

I’m curious though, would there be an illusion of decline if the English language we speak today were to evolve in retrograde to the language of the 17th or 18th century? I understand that the only barometer of distinction would be the written word.

[ Edited: 19 August 2019 10:39 PM by Logophile ]
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Posted: 20 August 2019 08:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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There’s a review of Shariatmadari’s book this article is based on here and it sounds like Dave’s book might be in the bibliography.

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