Language Change

A few of my colleagues were lamenting the diminishing state of American English, specifically, that television news anchors seem to speak less and less grammatically correct. I attempted to interject and explain the phenomenon of language change and pointed to “prescriptivism” vs. “descriptivism”, but was met with looks that can only be described as dismay or confusion.

The issue for me isn’t that language is changing, or that I have any sort of preference for any one particular type of English, but that two seemingly-educated people can wax nostalgic about how it was when they were young and not be fully aware that they know not from whence they speak. See what I did there? If one wishes to opine on the state of English grammar, and/or its general misuse, one should at least familiarize oneself with prevailing ideas about how to discuss grammar. Otherwise one is simply ranting and raving about a nonsensical topic that could be easily understood and accepted with a few hours of reading.

Chaucer – 1400, Shakespeare – 1616, Thomas Paine – 1809, Buck Owens – 2006

This timeline is just a way to see that English changes…and in the span of 600 years, it has changed immensely. From Chaucer to Shakespeare it changed much, and then to Paine it changed even more, finally, to a point that Mr. Owens would not have been able to hold a conversation with Chaucer. That they were unable to understand each other would have nothing at all to do with education level or a “dumbing-down” of society…simply, the slow, steady, and constant change of English.

Were it not for the commonness of the idea that English (or language in general) is or should be unchanging, the social discourse and descriptions of media bias might not be as muddled as they are. Language is subtle and coy, and can be used or “misused” in any number of ways. There is no single way to define the use of English and those that believe such are relegating themselves to a style of thought and world perspective that is not only not conducive to learning but can be toxic and debilitating to society at large.