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The death of English
Posted on Thursday, February 16 @ 13:38:43 PST by Red
Rants Tony Long at Wired magazine has written a great article about the decline of yet another pillar of western civilization: language. Give it a read...then give something a write.

Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by gsohappy on Thursday, February 16 @ 14:59:31 PST
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[rant] Of course, this takes the assumption that "language" is first and foremost written, which it is NOT. I'm sorry, but the author's rants about the so-called "dumbing down" of language (which, of course, he uncritically equates with English, and which he generalizes over drastically different registers, modalities and genres) is yet another tired tirade from a prescriptivist, elitist linguistic conservative who obviously has no clue about sociolinguistics. [/rant]



Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by gsohappy on Thursday, February 16 @ 15:09:05 PST
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P.S.-- Red, this isn't an attack on you. I'm just tired of these types of reactionary arguments about "language"... It's what happens when you've been in applied linguistics too long... :-)



Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by Raul on Friday, February 17 @ 03:15:51 PST
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If that is elitism, count me in. I don't see it as a neglect of verbal communication, but a specific analysis of the written communication that is proliferating in recent times (as he explained in the first graf or two). I think he does wander at the end, but as a "Internet person" I an 100% on board with the early sentiments against the ridiculous shorthand that abounds these days. Do you spend a lot of time perusing the blogs and forum musings of the unwashed masses, G? These aren't people for whom English is a second language or who are even the remotest bit multilingual. One can only take so much "OMFG HAWT SECKS" before turning militant. And that's a relatively mild example. You could just be spoiled because your blog neighborhood is inhabited with relatively facile writers ;)


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by Red on Friday, February 17 @ 08:47:42 PST
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Oh, I'm not offended at all. If anything, I'm surprised you didn't immediately side with him, Greggo. Yeah he's a little off his rocker, but his argument does have some merit. I'm with Raul - internet shorthand has gotten completely out of control. Click a few degrees outside your Xanga circle and you'll see smoldering heaps of unintelligible garbage. I don't think I'm being a cranky old man, either...it's just bad English!


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by gsohappy on Friday, February 17 @ 09:46:05 PST
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Hmmm, statements such as "the all-out assault on the English language and the role technology plays in that unprovoked and dastardly attack" is not only hyperbolic, reactionary and smacks of neo-Luddism, but it does not distinguish between written and oral communication, nor does it distinguish the myriad of genres and registers of written language. He conflates "language" with the written modality (he irresponsibly uses the two terms interchangeably), and then goes on to assume that all written language is and should be one narrow, very specific and particular register and genre -- i.e., his narrow, specific, and particular register and genre. Writers write with a particular audiences and purposes in mind, and they write to and for these audiences and purposes. If their audience is Tony Long's audience, then they should write "properly" -- whatever "proper" means for that particular discourse community. However, he's looking at different discourse communities across the blogosphere and the internet in general, and assumes that they should be writing for him and people like him. He's wrong. But I can understand his reasons -- he's taking a sloppy and extreme stance in order to appeal to his readership (and to elevate himself above the lowly masses). Shorthand and "misspellings" are abound not just because people are "lazy" or "slovenly" (and I'm sure many of them are) but because the communication demands of the internet and that "dastardly" technology are changing language and communication in interesting ways. If people are writing in such shorthand on their personal blogs, forums, or in IM or e-mails, so what??? They're writing to people who presumably understand such shorthand, and for which it's acceptable. Why should I get upset that it's acceptable within such a tiny (relatively speaking -- keep in mind the majority of the world is not communicating over the internet) discourse community??? If these same individuals ever want to communicate within the discourse communities of power (e.g., for Wired Magazine), then they *will* need to write "well" and "properly" according to the "rules" and conventions of that genre and register. And yes, I do wander out of my little blog neighborhood, and yes, I do see what people are writing "out there." And you know what? What is going on "out there" is NOT the "death" of "language." It's what gives language life.


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by gsohappy on Friday, February 17 @ 09:58:25 PST
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Again, sorry, but I'm just really tired of these types of arguments. These same types of arguments are used against Pidgin, Black English (so-called "Ebonics"), and all "non-standard" varieties of languages, both written and spoken. Although things like "OMFG HAWT SECKS" are ridiculous, I hardly see it as a danger to the English language. I'm not attacking you guys (Raul, Red) or anything... :)


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by gsohappy on Friday, February 17 @ 10:18:20 PST
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P.S.-- I just noticed a bunch of grammatical errors in my comments. Gasp! I'm killing the English language!!!! :-) haha


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by Red on Friday, February 17 @ 10:43:33 PST
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Yes, they *will* need to write properly, but they don't because they can't. Communication amongst one's peers requires a different set of rules than in the real world (as you pointed out), but a lot of kids can't communicate well enough in the real world because their environments foster mediocrity....... To back up my claim, here's a quote from a political science professor over here (venting via a listserv). Tkae note that he's a college poly sci professor talking about juniors and seniors::::::: "When I teach "Writing in the Disciplines" courses to upperclasspersons, I am always appalled at the low level of ability to express anything more than the simplest thoughts on the part of some students. These people have no sense of writing style or how to construct an analytical argument. Moreover, their spelling is abysmal. So I have to spend much time early in the semester laying down the linguistic law. That leads to some accusations that I'm supposed to be teaching Political Science, not English. But it's impossible to separate the two. How can you teach Political Science if the students can't handle the language?"


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by gsohappy on Friday, February 17 @ 10:53:19 PST
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These arguments are nothing new. I'm also tired of listening to professors lament and complain that they actually have to *teach*. They seem to be shocked that the teaching of language is inseparable from the teaching of the "content" of their disciplines. Shocker: All knowledge is discursive; hence, in order to teach knowledge, you need to teach the discourse! People will always be pointing fingers, at the education system, at the internet, at technology, at the home and "declining family values", at "society", etc etc ad nauseum. It's the same old tired arguments, because of the same old truisms that are unavoidable with language: all languages change and evolve; and all written language and discourse needs to be taught and learned. So why sit around and complain about it?


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by Red on Friday, February 17 @ 11:43:28 PST
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Time spent teaching political science juniors and seniors how to construct a simple sentence (which they should have learned in high school) is time wasted. It's not called "Political Science and Grammatically Correct Sentence Structure"...it's called "Political Science." The same applies to teachers who have a flimsy grasp of the English language, whether they're just plain inept or if it's their second language. What, should students have to adapt to the professor and spend as much time deciphering the professor's language as they spend learning the material? Hell no. The bottom line is students are expected to have learned the method of discourse before they get to college. That's why we have a distinction of grades (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc) in the school system. If you can't communicate with adults by the time you become one, you've wasted your time and education. We got to school to learn...not to have our hands held every step of the way just so the ones who never paid attention in class can figure out the subject-verb-object relationship....


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by gsohappy on Friday, February 17 @ 12:02:26 PST
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Sure, it's "Political Science", but I'm sure you noticed that it's a "Writing in the Disciplines" course, i.e., it is a writing course. Grammar is but a small part of writing, and if that professor is spending all of his/her time teaching grammar, then he/she is indeed wasting his/her time. Focusing solely on grammar and form does NOT improve writing (there is a LOT of empirical evidence to support this -- dude, I'm a writing teacher!!!!). There are not only textual (as well as contextual and intertextual), but rhetorical and discursive considerations to take into consideration, and these higher and deeper levels are far more important for academic writing than mere grammar and spelling. Academic discourse is vastly different across the different academic fields, and are very particular to each specific discourse community. Yes, it's true that what students learn in K-12 should prepare them for general discourses and communication, but it would be foolish for us to expect K-12 teachers to be able to prepare all students for all possible specialized academic discourses -- there is no one "method of discourse," and indeed there is no one "discourse" in the singular. The professor is teaching a "Writing in the Disciplines" course for upperclasspersons within a highly specialized field. I hardly see it as a waste of time for him/her to teach the discourse of political science. I think that professor doesn't realize that it's not an either-or proposition (i.e., content or form), but that content and form can be taught simultaneously. i think the professor needs to learn how to teach.


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by Red on Friday, February 17 @ 12:13:28 PST
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Fine, dude. You win. Teh ghey lam3rs deserve to have their hands held.


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by gsohappy on Friday, February 17 @ 12:24:00 PST
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Dude, it's not that they need to have their hands held, but that this whole issue is not so simple and black+white as many would like to portray it. And if he's teaching a writing class, he shouldn't be complaining that he has to actually teach writing. (Gasp!) And Red, I'm not sure about your tone. Are you seriously mixing the two issues (internet shorthand written on blogs/forums/e-mails etc. and academic discourses), or are you being "cute"??? :-)


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by Red on Friday, February 17 @ 13:02:28 PST
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It's pretty black and white to me. It's an *advanced* writing class, first of all. Learning remedial material in an advanced class is one of the most American of games: catch-up (based ona quote from that shitty movie Rising Son, but it serves its purpose I think). No, I'm not being cute...I'm mixing them because I think they are related. There are people who are unable to completely turn off the dorkspeak (which is just a part of the whole phenomenon I like to refer to as "lazy writing") - it shows in their writing a lot more than you'd think. You should see the emails we get from kids (high schoolers and college students). It's appalling. The incoming American emails are sometimes constructed worse than our International correspondence. I'm talking about grade-school level English being used by people who want to go to college. And don't even get me started on correspondence from potential/new hires...damn, it's almost as bad.


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by gsohappy on Friday, February 17 @ 13:10:57 PST
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So the people who can't turn off the "dorkspeak" are destroying the English language? Is a language so fragile as to collapse due to a minority (and they are still a minority) of "dorkspeakers"? And what do you do with these poorly written correspondence? They don't get hired or accepted, right? So what's the big deal? The gatekeepers are still on guard; the language is kept safe from the barbarians. Sure, "dorkspeak" may be widespread, but does it really matter in the end? Personally, I don't think so.


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by MajorD on Friday, February 17 @ 13:07:16 PST
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The prof seems to be having a hard time with his students' poor essay skills and spelling (doesn't everyone have a spellchecker these days?!) . That doesn't necessary mean that these kids use internet shorthand, and it doesn't necessarily mean that they have poor grammar skills. It sounds like they just can't write good essays. Seems to me that the kids are in a course that is much too advanced for them or didn't take enough writing classes. I agree, though, that the prof shouldn't be expected to teach them how to write a decent essay.... at least at that class level (Jr, Sr.).


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by gsohappy on Friday, February 17 @ 13:38:54 PST
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Okay, I shouldn't blame professors in other disciplines for not knowing about this, but there's something called Content-Based Language Teaching. It generally refers to second/foreign language teaching, but it applies to first languages as well. In an overly simplified nutshell: the best way to teach language form (according to this paradigm) is through carefully guided content (input analysis, etc etc). There are ways he can teach rhetorical, discursive, and even textual/grammatical features, without sacrificing content. I just think that it's unproductive for professors to bemoan having to teach writing in a writing class, and to sit around and complain about it. There are productive things that they can do to remedy the situation ... without necessarily "holding the students' hands" or sacrificing content. As I mentioned before, all knowledge is discourse. I think it would be liberating for the professor to realize this.


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by MajorD on Friday, February 17 @ 12:55:43 PST
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Jumping into this a little late, but... First, I agree that "internet shorthand" is irritating as hell. If I come across a Web page or blog where the author uses it, I just leave the page. It's really that simple. I don't have the time or patience to translate internet shorthand into regular English. That said, and after reading some of gsohappy's responses, I don't think that internet shorthand is the straw that will destroy English's back. Writing can differ depending on audience, and people who use internet shorthand have a specific audience. I can attest to this, because even though I hated it in the beginning, I am using more and more of it on the online game, Worlds of Warcraft. Why? Because time spent time typing in a chat window is a premium. It's necessary and fun, but you want to spend as little time doing that as possible. So stuff like "LOL" (which I hated hated hated before) become your best friend when you are trying to react to a joke or want to lighten up something you just typed. So what I'm saying is that this type of writing has its uses, and the problem lies with people inappropriately using it in other situations. The fact that it exists is not a problem. Kids need to be taught that there is a time and place for different types of writing. At my intermediate school, my favorite teacher used to tell us that we could swear, just not at school and definitely NOT in her classroom. The same went with pidgin. It was ok to use it, just not in her classroom. In fact, for our speech competitions, we were allowed and even encouraged to do storytelling in pidgin. This type of pragmatism, I think, is important for writing as well. Don't blame or restrict internet shorthand..... it has its place. This really comes back to teachers not doing their jobs or possibly teaching "wrong," in my honest opinion. I got my grammar basics in elementary and internediate, improved my writing tremendously in high school, and honed it in college. I was still getting a few marks off here and there in college, but for the most part did fine. At no point during that time did I get the impression that I could get away with not writing in a gramatically correct way. The only time I could really fut around with funky spellings and odd sentences was in fiction, which of course teachers encouraged and liked for fiction assignments. So teachers need to be enforcing style and making sure students understand that it's fine to write internet shorthand on chat or boards, but in other contexts they will be judged as retards. They should not be calling internet shorthand "crap" or "the end of english." You just make the gap bigger between students and teachers, kids and parents, etc. I mean, look at pidgin. The old school way of dealing with pidgin in school? Tell kids that it sounds dumb and uneducated. New way? Embrace pidgin, but embrace and master "proper" English, too. Whew, keyboard diarhea....


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by gsohappy on Friday, February 17 @ 13:02:34 PST
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I think Major D just did a much better job of explaining what I was trying to say. :)


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by Red on Friday, February 17 @ 13:07:36 PST
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Whoa, hold on, folks. I'm not bashing internet shorthand at all. I'm talking about lazy-ass dumbed down English in general. It's the crappy English that really chafes me. I didn't mean for this to turn into a tirade against internet shorthand (which I myself have used since '93/94). Just an fyi


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by Red on Friday, February 17 @ 13:08:58 PST
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Oh wait. I DID bash internet shorthand. Nevermind...


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by Red on Friday, February 17 @ 13:09:54 PST
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By the way, thanks to all who made this such a popular news thread. Comments are well into the double digits...


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by gsohappy on Friday, February 17 @ 13:12:07 PST
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This is fun! :)


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Re: The death of English (Score: 1)
by Red on Friday, February 17 @ 13:20:50 PST
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It's hard to keep track of all this. Threaded comments aren't indented, so it looks all hemajang. I posted a comment afer MajorD, and it got put above his because I replied to your comment. Uh, Raul - any way to tweak this?


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