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
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.