Sunday, September 20, 2009

If Not Here then Where?

I have a lot of sympathy for the French attempting to preserve their culture in the face of global homogenization. Having traveled to Europe many times over the last 30 years the changes are startling. In a similar way I admire those trying to prevent the bastardization of the English language. Remember the guys in college that tried to impress by using the non-word “irreguardless”? Well those same folks are older now and they have taken over “literally”. Of course unlike “irreguardless” literally is a word – but most people that now find the word useful don’t seem to know what it originally meant and use it in a way that is contrary to its intended meaning (and when used as such is unnecessary most of the time). Particularly irritating when misused by broadcast journalists.

1 comment:

  1. Professor Smith,

    While I too find fault with the use of certain words such as "irregardless," due to the illogical nature of it as a double negative, and the fact that people use the name Orangitang rather than Orangutan, I respectfully disagree with your assessment that the English language is being bastardized due to the common use of words like "literally."

    The English language, like all languages, is not static. Rather, it is fluid and dynamic, and changes with time as our society changes with time. Take for example the word 'moot.' The etymology of the word moot was originally interpreted as meaning something of importance and open for debate. The current usage of the word in the modern American lexicon is now being interpreted as something that is unimportant or obsolete. This change has occurred not only among the general public, but also in academia as well. I have heard professors throughout my college career use the term moot in the modern context rather than the etymological origins context. Does this mean that academics are bastardizing the English language, or does it mean that they too are responding to the inherent changes in our language?

    Additionally, what criteria would we use to determine whether or not the use of a word is bastardizing or not bastardizing the English language? Modern American dictionaries vary in their interpretation of certain words. Which dictionary would we use to determine the proper usage of a particular word? Also, which would we use, British English or American English. If we were to choose one or the other, how far back would we travel to determine what is the original intent of the word? If we chose American English, would we use the vernacular used by the Founders of the U.S. as a nation, or would we go forward in the American time line and use more modern constructs? If we were to determine that British English was the only proper English to be written and spoken, how far back would we go? Would we use 15th century, or 16th century British English? Would we use the English spoken by Aristocrats or the commoners?

    I am not suggesting that we not apply any rules or structure to our language. Obviously some structure is necessary in order for us to effectively communicate. That being said however, people have been breaking language rules likely since language was created. These changes in our language add flavor and make the English language more colorful. William Shakespeare is a prime example of a person who changed the English language. While he did have his critics, many would suggest he changed the English language for the better.