English is not dead
As a journalist by training and a bit of a grammar nerd, I groan as much as the next stickler for spelling when I see an “it’s” where an “its” should be. I love witty takes on the lack of grammar in some writing. I especially rue the mistakes I make in my own writing.
But sometimes the grammar and spelling nerdiness goes too far. The world is not ending because “U r 2″ is now a complete sentence. Specifically, I have a problem with the idea that instant messaging, texting and Internet-speak has ushered in a doom spiral of bad grammar, non-existent copy editing and poor spelling.
This is a myth, pure and simple.
We see this myth too often. For example, this admittedly clever obituary to the English language by the usually excellent Gene Weingarten.
I know Mr. Weingarten is being facetious, but the feeling that English is diminished or dying is very real among grammar aficionados. Unfortunately, it’s a feeling devoid of truth.
Here is the lede in Weingarten’s story:
“The English language, which arose from humble Anglo-Saxon roots to become the lingua franca of 600 million people worldwide and the dominant lexicon of international discourse, is dead. It succumbed last month at the age of 1,617 after a long illness. It is survived by an ignominiously diminished form of itself.”
The reason for the death and preceding illness, he says, was the atrocious misspellings and unnecessary phrases found in America’s newspapers and public discourse.
Or the Declaration of Independence, which refers to “our Brittish brethren.” (emphasis added)
Some English fans might protest. “But that was before standardized dictionaries and AP Style were around,” they might argue. “We have those wonderful resources now, and journalists of all people should know how to spell words correctly.”
Their point is well taken. But it is still ludicrous to suggest that, because misspellings frequent the pages of newspapers, English is dying. Even the best newspapers have always made mistakes, both mundane and spectacular. Not to mention, adult illiteracy has decreased from 20 percent in the 1800s to less than 1 percent today, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
I realize I’m being a bit of a curmudgeon. Most people who say the English language is dying do so jokingly, and may not think it’s in any real danger. But it frustrates me when people say that Americans don’t care about English anymore, or that Internet-speak is ruining the language – especially when the opposite is true.
I welcome your thoughts, comments or criticism. Am I wrong, or just too sensitive? I’m interested to hear what others think about English and its use/mastery by its speakers, readers and writers. Is English going downhill?