a person who flouts the law, especially by failing to comply with a law that is difficult to enforce effectively.
“scofflaws who have accumulated large debts in unpaid parking tickets”
“Scofflaw” was the winning entry of a nationwide competition to create a new word for “the lawless drinker,” with a prize of $200 in gold, sponsored by Delcevare King, a banker and enthusiastic supporter of Prohibition, in 1923. … The word itself remains a symbol of the Prohibition era.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the language I speak is somehow, though I’m not quite sure how exactly, just not good enough. Now, this isn’t just an idea I had on my own. People think this. A lot of people. And all the time. Because there are people who complain about language. A lot. That it’s going to the dogs. The kids are invariably to blame. Or maybe immigrants. However, maybe, language, in the first place, just isn’t good enough. Why else would there be a constant need for words, such as the 1923 prize winning entry to a new word competition “scofflaw”? Did we need a word meaning a person who flouts the law, especially by failing to comply with a law that is difficult to enforce effectively? I guess we did. Because it stuck. So was our language in 1922 somehow incomplete? How did Shakespeare cope? Samuel Johnson? (But Johnson never gave up complaining – though mainly about how language was degenerating – not that it hadn’t been good enough when he was a lad.)
Now, you might argue that even if there is a word for that stuff that clings to your banana after you peel it (phloem), then we should be pretty ok as far as having words for stuff: isn’t our language more or less full?
The Forces of Destruction, Guy Deutscher
- “[one hundred years ago] practically everyone (…) spoke correctly. The lapse of time has certainly had a deteriorating effect” –Cicero, 46 BC
- “six hundred years ago, every common peasant knew (…) perfections and niceties of the German language” –Grimm, 1819
- “how rapidly the language of a nation (…) can sink” –Schleicher, 1848
- “[English will] sink into mono-syllabicity” –Schleicher, 1848
- “most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way”-Orwell, 1946
- “every age claims that its language is more endangered and threatened by decay than ever before”- Weigel, 1974
- “decay is (…) the aspect of change that is by far the most easily observable” + “the productive forces of renewal and creation, are much more difficult to spot”
Deutscher argues that measuring positive language change (e.g. the spread of a new word) is much more difficult than measuring ‘negative’ language change (e.g. the spread of non-standard grammar); this is why so many linguists think that English is decaying.
- “linguistic labour-saving devices” + “economic benefits of short-cuts in pronunciation”
Deutscher believes that languages change for three reasons (to become more economical, to become more expressive, and to become more regular): here, he argues that any change which makes speech easier or quicker, like the change from ‘isn’t it’ to ‘innit’, cannot be fairly labelled as degeneration.
- “the English of today is not what it used to be, but then again, it never was”
Deutscher argues that, since complaints about language change have existed as long as written records have, there has never been a perfect model English.
One of Aitcheson’s three ‘theories’ is the crumbling castle view, the idea that English, which, at some point, was totally perfect, is degenerating, thanks to current language usage; this theory is easily disproven. For one thing, comparing English to a great building implies that at some point, somebody mapped out its entire structure, setting all of its rules in advance: as evidenced by the huge number of borrowings and irregularities in the English language, this is simply not the case. The verb ‘to be’, for example, is irregular, not just in English, but in almost all languages; the very existence of irregular verbs suggest that languages develop organically. For another thing, the crumbling castle theory states that, at one point, the English language was flawless: however, complaints about language have been a constant for as far back as written records go. “Six hundred years ago, every common peasant knew (…) perfections and niceties of the German language”, complained Jacob Grimm in 1819, whilst monks in the 14th century bemoaned the ‘grating tooth-gnashing’ of the common folk; “practically everyone (…) spoke correctly. The lapse of time has certainly had a deteriorating effect”, wrote Cicero in 46 BC, lamenting the loss of the ‘superior’ Latin spoken one hundred years prior. These sustained complaints cast doubt on the idea that there was ever a version of any language that satisfied everyone, let alone a perfect model English, neatly disproving the crumbling castle view.
Everything was better back in the day: anyone over forty will tell you that. The air was cleaner, Freddos were cheaper, and, most importantly, everyone knew how to speak properly. Unlike nowadays: if the experts are to be believed, we’ll be regressing back into monosyllabicity any day now, such is the state of the English language in 2019. So, who’s to blame? Teenagers, obviously. Teenagers, with their idiotic slang and their terrible grammar and their incessant shortening of words, will single-handedly destroy our language if we let them, argue humourless sticklers up and down the country. Not only is this view patently ridiculous, it’s also extremely short-sighted: the linguistic shortcuts that teenagers tend to adopt will inevitably win out in the long run. Take ‘gonna’ for example; it’s easier to say than ‘going to’, and therefore speeds speech up, without causing confusion: logically, then, ‘going to’ should be dying out. So why isn’t it? Maybe the linguist Guy Deutscher had a point: languages are improving all the time: they’re getting more efficient at getting across the meaning, the point, or even the insult.
The idea that languages always degenerate is a prescriptivist one and thus should be challenged, considering that language can evolve and change but never degenerate: if they did then they’d not work eventually and stop being used. However, in every instance language death only coincides with the death of a particular people, culture, or way of life. The idea that languages degenerate would fit with Aitchison’s mockery of prescriptivist ideas under the ‘crumbling castle’ metaphor where language was once a beautiful structure which is now being destroyed by the evolution of language: this is clearly not the case as no real language was never built to any kind of design. Guy Deutscher shows how we make language more effective by using metaphors, eventually change the meaning of words; for example, the word “very” originally meant completely truthfully, however now, due to the evolution of its meaning and the repeated use of it to mean “in high degree”, the meaning has shifted from the original. If one were to look at this from a negative view it could be suggested that this is the devolution, or the degeneration, of the English language; however, it is simply a change that naturally comes. The evolution of language should fundamentally not be seen as a negative thing, considering the fact that evolution is a natural part in any aspect of society and should be treated as such, and applauded.
Verbal Hygiene – Deborah Cameron
Political correctness, it has its place, but I’m not going to sit here and deny that I raise a few eyebrows when I hear die-hard PC advocates championing the so-called “neutrality “of terms like “chairmen”. As citizens living during this linguistic guerrilla war, we are left with two choices. We can choose to stick to the norm, stay loyal to the old “chairman” and convey a conservative attitude, or we hop onto the PC bandwagon, wave our feminist flag and opt for “chairwoman.” We’ve lost our option of political neutrality in our attempt to achieve political neutrality. Orthodox feminist Dale Spender and her counterparts, need to take a step back, and see that the creation of new words to reform our “man-made language” is fundamentally an illusion. Alongside these words comes the obligation to pick a side, and then what we’re left with is the inability to convey something that means nothing more than “a certain woman holds a particular office.”
An example of when PC may not exactly be bettering our language is with so-called gender-neutral terms to reform our ‘man-made language’ (Dale Spender). When a woman in charge of a meeting at work, is tasked with introducing themselves as it begins, the task of conveying nothing more than the idea that they are a woman who holds a particular office has been rendered even more difficult by the development of “PC” terms. If she introduces herself with the concrete noun “chairperson” she shows a conservative attitude, but if she opts for “chairwoman” she presents herself as an advocate of feminism. The English language may have gained terms with huge social capital at a conservative or a feminist press conference but the language has lost its option political neutrality alongside prescriptivists search for political neutrality. What Deborah Cameron calls “Verbal Hygiene”…
Those who have got the hump with language change seem, for some bizarre reason unknown to the rest of us, to enjoy equating the change in meaning of words with the decay of our English language. Will they ever realise that they are ultimately fighting a losing battle? When my skinny friend told me last week that she “could literally eat a horse” I knew it wasn’t literally true. Obviously, she couldn’t actually chomp her way through one of the solid-hooved mammals. Arch complainers like Lynn Truss try to back up their “zero tolerance approach” to language change by claiming that these “missuses” of language cause confusion. But anyone who claims that the panda; the large, black-and-white, bear-like mammal native to China that EATS, SHOOTS AND LEAVES contains any sort of ambiguity, is clearly nuts. No one’s afraid of a panda shooting them in a seedy bar in some Chinese city. Changes like these have been happening without any problems ever since we can remember.
Prescriptivists are often quick to declare that our English language is decaying from its once “Golden Age” right before our eyes and their “evidence” often comes in the form our youth and their increasing use of non-standard constructions. Rest assured I’m not promoting the use of “innit” in your next job interview. I’m not even telling you to throw the odd one in. But what if, these “non-standard” forms do have a place in society. When used amongst our friends, we might seek a sense of group solidarity and belonging. Can you blame us? Non-standard forms might me our easiest way of doing this. Using language to help us construct our identity, is putting language to good use, and pioneer of sociolinguistics James Milroy would back me in saying that language is not deteriorating at all, and certainly not from an old peak of perfection. Language was never only about communication – getting your point across as effectively as possible. But is it was, wouldn’t “innit” be a more efficient way of saying “isn’t it”? They have “vero” in Italian, why doesn’t English have a word that does this, seek the agreement of your listener?
Some of the words that prescriptivists claim are riddling our language like an infectious disease, come in fact from our beloved playwright, Mr. Shakespeare: the king of histories, comedies and tragedies. He used not a double but a triple negative in Richard 111. Need I say more? Well, clearly I must. However, “I was never nor will never be” coming from the Best British playwright simply isn’t enough to show that these constructions do have their place. The French do it day it day out, their standard negation involves two parts, “n’est pas”? The University of Manchester honorary research fellow, Guy Deutscher sheds some light on the perfectly acceptable function of these dreaded constructions. They allow us to achieve greater effect for what we say, to emphasise our utterances. So not only do you know nothing”, to “not know nothing” emphasises the utter lack of your knowing anything. Isn’t this better language? How could it be worse?
PC- Power and Deception by Dwight Bollinger
- Complete truthfulness is synonymous with complete sincerity
- Promises are never objectively true or untrue, because intentions are private
- A meteorologist is not a liar when the fair weather of his promise turns into rain
- Intentions are the arbiter of truth
- A label is ambiguous- possibly false on the interpretation most favourable to the product, but true on some other interpretation.
- Maurice Bloch (anthropologist) “ritual is the enemy of positional language, through which human beings grasp reality”.
- Traditional authority…ritualising what it approves and tabooing what it does not.
- Aggressive falsehood…a truth that comes too late is equivalent to a lie; like justice, truth delayed is truth denied.
- Euphemisms add up to a world of promise grander than life
- Advertising turns a timepiece into a jewel, a motorcar into a symbol of prestige and a mosquito swamp into a tropical paradise.
FAT & POLITICAL CORRECTNESS
Those who can’t quite get their head around political correctness seek to join one of two sides of the debate; the first being that PC has gone too far and we should just get rid of it altogether. I’m not sure about you, but I am well aware that freely being called ‘fat’ in the school corridor, is not the best way to go about bettering your self-esteem, so it’s probably best to hold onto some awareness of PC. The latter stance of course, is that PC needs to be enforced by replacing every word in the English dictionary- so instead of your GP calling you ‘fat’ they might note you down as ‘curvy’ on their medical records. Aside from this failing to discourage anyone from eating their daily 5 packets of chocolate digestives, it also won’t solve the never-ending judgement in society. As American linguist Dwight Bollinger rightly points out – PC cannot be enforced by only focusing on words, because it depends on how they’re interpreted, which determines whether they’re politically correct. Of course using the word ‘curvy’ doesn’t make you politically correct if you’re clearly lying through your teeth. Really, people’s intentions are the main problem here – not words.
The idea that political correctness has gone too far simply because descriptive adjectives such as “fat” have been replaced with the evaluative adjective “curvy” for example, is perhaps unfair. Not only does this suggest that Political Correctness is purely based on an individual’s choice of words but it also dismisses the intentions of people in society. For example, Dwight Bollinger would suggest that the use of the adjective ‘curvy’ is rather ambiguous, meaning it depends on how it’s used, as to whether it actually helps enforce political correctness within society. For instance, if a person believes another individual to be fat but uses the simple declarative “you look curvy in that dress” to portray their appearance, it may be interpreted in a positive way and be seen as a compliment. On the other hand, it could be interpreted as obfuscatory and a euphemistic term for ‘overweight’, thus not working as language should: getting our point across. Therefore, adapting one’s choice of words, doesn’t automatically result in a change to their discriminatory views, as Sapir & Whorf’s theory would suggest – both the strong and the weak variety – so it could be argued that PC hasn’t gone too far when words are replaced, because it doesn’t change much, barely nudging the views of society.
The damp spoon theory, which is one of Aitcheson’s language change ‘theories’, states that language change is generally the result of laziness, the same kind of laziness that would lead someone to put a damp spoon back in the sugar bowl without drying it. An example of a linguistic change that prescriptivists would label as lazy is clipping: for example, the change from ‘advertisement’ to ‘advert’ to ‘ad’, or from ‘limousine’ to ‘limo’. These changes, they argue, are the result of people being too lazy to finish one word before moving on to the next one, and too passive to correct themselves if they clip a word accidentally: however, this is not true. Clipping is often born from speakers varying the speed of their speech to suit their audience; informal speech tends to be quicker than formal speech. This natural instinct to adapt is not an indicator of laziness, or of degeneration: quite the opposite, as clipping provides evidence of speakers making an effort to adapt their language, and, as Aitcheson said, “faster speech involves more words per minute, and cannot be classed as laziness”. Since clipping allows speech to be sped up, without confusing its meaning, enabling easier and quicker communication, the idea that language change is always synonymous with degeneration can’t be true. This also supports Guy Deutscher’s theory of language change, where he claims that language changes to become more efficient, at least some of the time; this tendency can be noted in changes such as “innit” – we’re saying the same thing more efficiently.
Jespersen, a descriptivist, concluded that “the discarding of old flexions goes hand in hand with the development of simpler and more regular expedients”; this observation agrees with Deutscher’s theory that language changes to become more ‘orderly’. A recent language trend that supports this idea is the blurring between the nominative and accusative cases in everyday speech. In Standard English, subjects of verbs are in the nominative case (e.g. the ‘I’ in ‘I was asleep’) and objects of verbs are in the accusative case (e.g. the ‘me’ in ‘she knocked me out’). Hypercorrection has resulted in the use of the nominative case spreading to places where the accusative case ‘should’ be used: for example, after prepositions. The phrase “between you and I” is a good example of this: grammatically speaking, the correct version of this phrase is “between you and me”. However, this change cannot be fairly labelled as degeneration: as Aitcheson said, “real [linguistic] rules or patterns need to be distinguished from artificially imposed ones”. The change from ‘I’ to ‘me’ or from ‘they’ to ‘them’ is a rapidly emerging pattern because, in terms of comprehension, it simply doesn’t matter which pronoun is used: in fact, it could be argued that merging two separate cases into one fluid group of pronouns would in fact make it easier to communicate by eliminating any possible confusion between cases, suggesting that language change can actually be a positive thing.
“All languages have their own ‘rules’ in the sense of recurring, subconscious patterns. (…) Without these real rules, communication would break down: ‘Henry ate an octopus’ does not mean the same as ‘an octopus ate Henry’. But real rules or patterns need to be distinguished from artificially imposed ones. For example, an old and illogical belief that logic should govern language has led in English to a ban on the double negative, as in ‘I don’t know nothing’, which is now standardly: ‘I don’t know anything’. This is odd, because in most languages of the world, the more negatives, the stronger the negation. This was true in thirteenth-century English.” J Aitchison
Forces of Creation by Guy Deutscher (2005)
- Dr. Chris de Troy said “Creation through Destruction” when talking about how the language has developed
- “without these much maligned forces of destruction, language would never have developed in the first place”
- “we wouldn’t have got much beyond grunts and groans”
- “forces that create grammatical structures in language are nothing other than the by-products of destruction”
- “the forces of destruction took hold of ‘going to’ “
- “are you going tothe concert this evening? No, I’m gonnastay at home.”
- “ ‘gonna’ in the second sentence has lost its status as a verb of movement”
- “ ‘going to’ slowly starts sliding down the long slippery slope towards abstraction”
The idea that language change can be controlled and directed is not necessarily correct as language change is inevitable and although there are many negative attitudes towards language change, it may not be as bad as some people think. There are many people who are likely to use the word “innit”, meaning “isn’t it” (which may, in context, be a tag question). Despite this use of language being incorrect in the eyes of prescriptivists, it’s not necessarily wrong as language is prone to change. Some people may see this change as a destruction of language but others may see it as the creation of a new word which could then improve the language. The linguist Guy Deutscher argues that the forces of creation go hand in hand with the forces of destruction, words get clipped and shortened, then they get so small they clump together to form new words. An example of this may be the French noun “aujourd’hui” which was originally four separate words but over time blended into one as the French people spoke it as one word.
Language change is inevitable. Your slightly racist grandpa may argue that ‘kids nowadays sound dumb’ because they say “innit” and “gonna” and that they’re destroying his beloved language, but I beg to differ. Out of destruction can come creation and although there will be people who try to argue that these new words are out to poison our very being, I implore you to see that they may actually help us create a new language, and what harm can be done from that? Especially if it allows me to annoy my racist relatives. So use “chairperson” with a cheeky smile on your face. Use words that didn’t exist for the last generation…
The term decay is often used in regards to a new form of English that arrived with the digital age – “textese”. Common features of textese that come into criticism are abbreviations – such as BRB (be right back), IDC (I don’t care) or even LOL (laugh out loud). This variety of English is often criticised by older, more prescriptivist members of society, who believe these changes are eroding the English language, who see the abbreviations as ‘lazy’. In reality, these prescriptivist ideas are outdated and problematic, and are lampooned by Aitchson, where some old fogies see the grossest abusers of the English Language as being like oiks who leave a damp spoon in the sugar bowl. Aitchson’s parodic metaphor almost imitates those who see English as decaying due to laziness, who are blind to the fact that they too shaped language due to perceived laziness. In reality, abbreviations have been present in English since its creation, and it is thought monks created the @ sign. In reality English isn’t decaying: there’s nothing negative (or positive) about it; instead it is adopting to its user’s needs.
The idea that political correctness is a ‘cure’ to improve our language, implies that the language we speak is ‘ill’ and that there is something wrong with it. I mean if we ask our 2,000-year-old friend Cicero I’m sure he would agree as “the lapse of time has certainly had a deteriorating effect’. But what would he know? He probably wouldn’t understand the concept of political correctness, as it’s way after his time. The words we use are not ‘ill’ themselves, however, “language functions as a tool for expressing social categorisations and hierarchies” according to respected linguists Sczesny, Moser and Wood. Therefore, if toxic individuals within society use language to perpetuate their negative thoughts and stereotypes then the words used will appear ‘ill’ and in need of a cure such as political correctness, or is it? For example, the word “fat” is not a bad word, but due to the body shamers, beauty ideologies and the unfortunate message that anything other than ‘perfect’ is wrong, the word “fat” is now seen to be bad. “Fat” is used negatively and is used to attempt to marginalise those individuals who may fall under the imaginary category of ‘fat’ from society, making them feel that something is problematic with them.
The only thing that is problematic are the damaging views that are allowed to exist amongst us. Therefore, political correctness is not a priority in making our language better, in fact the focus should be shaming societal attitudes not our language. George Orwell would agree; he would have it that if the “general atmosphere is bad …language must suffer”. So if the small minded individuals could halt their desire to scrutinize and body shame then perhaps the word “fat” has a chance of being accepted. In another light political correctness may in fact be a necessary cure for some areas of our language. Our language being ill may be due to the toxic societal views, but it may also be due to “the slovenliness of our language” according to Orwell. For example, the word “chairman” is discriminatory as it “can apply to both sexes, it is apparently male orientated”, as said by professor Peter Trudgill. As the stereotypes and discriminatory essence this word carries are not obviously problematic, individuals may not go out of their way to avoid using it. This is out of laziness as they will not suffer from the detrimental effects these types of words have. This shows how “foolish our thoughts are” (Orwell) and due to our thoughts and laziness our language becomes “ugly and inaccurate” and perhaps even ill. Therefore, if we had a politically correct, gender neutral replacement for “chairman” our language would perpetuate less problematic stereotypes, be accurate and therefore, showing our language being improved by political correctness.
The argument that political correctness makes our language better is seriously misleading, coincidentally so is political correctness itself. If I was to say “migrant” rather than “immigrant”, Orwell would accuse me of lying to myself and those around me. Orwell wouldn’t be wrong as this political correctness attempts to hide the real issues surrounding the word and avoid them. By using the word “migrant” some individuals may see it as a way to stop perpetuating negative stereotypes about these individuals, as the word doesn’t carry the negative connotations, therefore, demonstrating how political correctness makes our language better. However, the use of the word “migrant” isn’t always to protect the affected individuals, but rather to protect other people as the word “migrant” isn’t loaded with the anxiety and controversy, which “suddenly emerges into popular consciousness” when “immigrant” is used, as linguist Jean Aitcheson has said. This shows just how wrong political correctness can be, not only for our language but for society, as it encourages fake news, fake beliefs and fake knowledge!
As everyone knows, political correctness was cooked up by a coven of mollycoddling mothers and insecure fathers, rearing its ugly head for the first time in the mid ‘90s. Before that, we lived in an idyllic society, one in which we were free to say what we wanted, when we wanted; free from the constraints of the thought police, liberated from the liberal jackboot. Now, obviously, I’m being facetious here, but this idea of a shadowy PC syndicate is frequently dredged up, dusted off, and treated as breaking news by uninspired journalists looking to make a quick buck. If they bothered to put a little research into their articles, however, they’d soon discover that the idea of political correctness dates back much further than its opponents would have us believe. As far back as the late 18th century, in fact, when the search for a gender-neutral singular pronoun began; James Anderson, a Scottish publisher, suggested replacing the generic ‘he’ with the more inclusive ‘ou’, opening a can of worms that would not be successfully dealt with for almost two hundred years. But hang on a minute, you might be thinking: what does using ‘he’ as the default pronoun have to do with political correctness? Isn’t PC all about offending people? Who’s offended by the default ‘he’, other than crazy men-hating feminazis? The answer to this is simple: ‘being politically incorrect’ is not synonymous with ‘being offensive’. The issue of political correctness, a nebulous concept at the best of times, has been bastardized by the media, who have linked it, inextricably, with the idea of easily-offended ‘snowflakes’. In order to disprove this carefully engineered misconception, let’s look at the issue of generic ‘he’ more closely.
Sitting on the plain back from Moscow last week, I had heard the fella behind me say “”They sound like they’re angry all the time, don’t they? That must do something to your brain surely. If say, the Germans didn’t have a word for the process of coming to terms with the past (they do; it’s Vergangenheitsbewaltigung), would they be able to conceive it?” The principle of linguistic relativity, coined by linguists Sapir and Whorf and brought to my attention by my aircraft companions, claims that it is our language that determines our culture, which in turn determines our language, by determining the way that we categorize our thoughts about the world and our experiences in it. Pronouncements made by Sapir and Whorf and my train carriage companions leave me feeling a little uneasy. This idea that people who speak some particular language are incapable of certain kinds of thought? Isn’t this a bit…distasteful…maybe even…a little bit racist? The strong version of the theory states that our language is a prison house: we can’t escape it. But even the weak version of Sapir and Whorf’s hypothesis – that language at the very least kind of matters – that it leads us, or misleads us, is worrying too.
There seems to be a new trend within old, wrinkly, white people at the moment. Having moved on from casual racism, their new target is the young generation; in particular, their language. Suddenly, the new evil within the world are people who use abbreviations. You heard that right, not criminals, worse. Texters. Enraged with the use of acronyms and initialisms such as BRB (be right back), IDC ( I don’t care) and LOL (laugh out loud) they cannot believe the way in which ‘their’ English has been torn apart by the new generation. Those lazy bastards have charged in, they argue, barely at voting age, and ripped the linguistic carpet from under our feet! They believe English is being changed by what Professor Jean Aitchson would describe ironically as the damp soon theory – the idea English is changing through laziness and bad manners – much as an ignorant oik would leave a damp spoon in the sugar bowl. In reality, they need to accept that English has been changing since its birth (even in their sad little lives) and that it will continue to change – irrespective of if they keep up or not.
Many believe that language is constantly decaying, and it’s impossible for us to save it from its destruction. ‘We cannot by conscious action do anything about it’, argued George Orwell. Many people believe that changing our language will affect the thoughts and beliefs of individuals – basically control the way they think. Although it is impossible to eradicate negative thoughts – such as racist opinions, from society as a whole, by changing our language and avoiding the use of words and phrases that encourage negative stereotypes, we can maybe make it harder for the negative thoughts to spread. But the danger here, as Orwell would argue, is that we are handing the keys of mass mind control over to the Political Correctness Overlords. Some are so quick to laugh at politically correct language and deem it the language of snowflakes and social justice warriors, of the far-left. But instead of ridiculing the idea of PC, we should recognize its theoretical validity and usefulness in promoting social progress, though the converse of this is the incredible power it could give to a shadowy elite, if such a shadowy elite existed.
Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass
- “Fluent speech, there are no real spaces between words, so when two words frequently appear together they can easily fuse into one.” E.g. blends: brunch, guesstimate, motel, shopaholic, hangry.
- “There is an inverse correlation between the complexity of society and of word structure!” the more complicated the meaning of language the less sophisticated society is.
- “Gender thus provides our second example of how the mother tongue influences thought.”
- “Word that is not actively used by one generation will not be heard by the next generation and will then be lost forever.”
- “People find names for things they feel the need to talk about.”
- “The culturalists tried to make the idea more appealing by pointing out that even in modern languages we use idioms that are rather imprecise about colour. Don’t we speak of “white wine,” for instance, even if we can see perfectly well that it is really yellowish green? Don’t we have “black cherries” that are dark red and “white cherries” that are yellowish red? Aren’t red squirrels really brown? Don’t the Italians call the yolk of an egg “red” (il rosso)?”
- “And there are also languages that divide nouns into much more specific genders. The African language Supyire from Mali has five genders: humans, big things, small things, collectives, and liquids. Bantu languages such as Swahili have up to ten genders, and the Australian language Ngan’gityemerri is said to have fifteen different genders, which include, among others, masculine human, feminine human, canines, non-canine animals, vegetables, drinks, and two different genders for spears (depending on size and material).”
- “Anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language knows only too dearly that languages can be full of pointless irregularities that increase complexity considerably without contributing much to the ability to express ideas. English, for instance, would have losed none of its expressive power if some of its verbs leaved their irregular past tense behind and becomed regular.”
The idea that language is getting worse is a perscriptivist viewpoint and is argued to be incorrect as Guy Deutscher would say that its actually getting better. Words that a prescriptivist would argue as being the result of lazy and ignorant kids, as lampooned by Jean Aitcheson with her “damp spoon syndrome”, including blends like “brunch” and “guesstimate”, actually make explaining these things less complicated and therefore reflects the efficiency of our language as opposed to its degeneration. Aitcheson, a descriptivist, doesn’t judge, she merely describes: these changes happen. However, Guy Deutscher puts forward the idea that the increase in efficiency is actually an improvement.
The English language is so perfect it could express things without you even having to mean it, this oxymoronic opinion that the tea-loving patriots of our nation have, demonstrates the irony of the idea that our language is perfect the way it was. Our language is 1000 ways biased as well-known linguist Dwight Bolinger said. Changes like the use of the word ‘innit’ instead of ‘isn’t it’ seem to vex these nostalgia-junkies, which is ‘literally’ the funniest thing to witness. Their precious language derived from metaphors like ‘literally’ which come from meaning that changed over time, when we used to use it figuratively it would be outrageous to use it metaphorically which is common in our language nowadays. Language will change whether these ‘geniuses’ will it or not and we must embrace change instead of make futile attempts to reject it.
Q4 – PC
Up until about the 1950s, if you wanted to refer to someone generally, you wouldn’t refer to ‘them’: you’d refer to ‘him’. For example, instead of saying, “a person can’t help their birth”, you would say, “a person can’t help his birth”, and so on. Born out of patriarchal tradition, this practice seems harmless enough at first glance; think it over, though, and the problem begins to take shape. Using generic ‘he’ as the default in literature teaches boys and girls alike that it’s men who write, that it’s men who read, that it’s men who do stuff, feel stuff, think stuff; as a result, girls are limited not only in what they can do, but what they think they can do. An over-exaggeration? I don’t think so. It’s easy to dismiss the threat of generic ‘he’ now, in a society that promotes freedom of choice and equality for all; put yourself in the shoes of a woman in the 1950s, though, and it’s easy to see how your sense of self-worth would be chipped away over time. Hence, the need for a gender-neutral singular pronoun, advocated for by women who were sick to death of the marginalisation of their sex. Dogmatists who continue to use generic ‘he’ run the risk of appearing out-of-touch, bigoted, or, worse, ridiculous: “when we get abortion law repeal, everyone will be able to decide for himself whether or not to have an abortion”, announced Albert Blumenthal before the New York State Assembly in 1984.
Q4 – LC
It seems to me that a lot of people struggle with the concept of language change. I’m not sure why because it’s been happening since well before you were born – and before you start, I don’t need to know your age, I just know. “Literally” is probably referred to as one of the most controversial examples of language change. It has gone from being used in a complete ‘literal’ sense, to now being used much more figuratively; like when united lose a match for the fifth time in a row and you say “I literally want to kill myself”. No one at that moment really questions whether you will ‘literally’ take your own life for the sake of football. Despite this, people still complain that language change is causing confusion when let’s face it, it really isn’t. Someone who has made sense of this is linguist Guy Deutscher. He circulated the idea of Expressiveness in speech, which may result in words such as ‘literally’ extending their meaning, so that you use them in a non ‘literal’ sense, thereby being more expressive, getting your frustration across more effectively. If I say “I could literally kill people who moan about language change,” I’m sure you get the depth of my frustration.
Q1 – LC
The idea that not only is language not degenerating, it’s improving, has been suggested by Guy Deutscher, technically making him a prescriptivist. He argues that a language has to change, in order to remain relevant and useful, and that all change is motivated by one of three aims: to become more expressive, to become more economical, or to become more orderly. The idea that language has to change to become more expressive can be supported by the recent shift in meaning of ‘literally’; originally only meaning ‘in a literal meaning’, the adverb is now also used as an adverb of emphasis. Prescriptivists who think language is getting worse would argue that this is a negative change, as the meaning of ‘literally’ is now confused: however, Deutscher would argue that this type of semantic shift is inevitable. ‘Very’, for instance, used to be ‘verily’, another adverb of truth; this type of shift, he argues, is a by-product of our natural tendency to over exaggerate. Hence, this change is nothing more than an inevitable side effect of a language evolving, which supports Aitcheson’s idea that a “rigid system” of language needs to become flexible in order to survive.
Q4 – PC
The media’s proclivity for jumping on the PC-bashing bandwagon has warped our collective understanding of what PC actually is, to the extent that anyone who doesn’t knowingly chuckle at the phrase ‘political correctness gone mad’ runs the risk of being irrevocably labelled as some kind of linguistic tyrant, an enemy of free speech, to be avoided at all costs. Supporters of political correctness are simply too thin-skinned for the real world, argue mindless reporters up and down the country; either that, or they’re championing political correctness in order to somehow reap the benefits of not being a straight, white, middle-class man, whilst ignoring their own shortcomings. To the media, and, by extension, the population at large, the issue of political correctness is inextricably linked with the idea of avoiding causing offense, which is not its purpose at all: rather, political correctness is all about the eradication of harmful stereotypes and preconceptions. Wouldn’t the world be a better place, maybe, possibly, without the words “slut”, “bitch” and “chairman”?
Q4 – PC
We are all so quick to laugh at politically correct language and deem it the language of snowflakes and social justice warriors of the far-left, just because we like to know we can use whatever language we want to. Instead of ridiculing the idea of PC, we should recognize its theoretical validity and usefulness in promoting social progress. To those of you out there that are trying so hard not to conform to this mental politically correct movement, grow up. Alright maybe that’s a bit harsh, but all I’m saying is don’t just nod along to all the racists and bigots that just live to embarrass and lampoon anyone who agrees with PC culture. It’s a very much outdated view, is all. Take this quote from Eighteenth Century writer Johnathan Swift, “I see no absolute Necessity why any Language would be perpetually changing.” Judging by this we don’t need to change language, right? Back in Swift’s day a “nigger” was every black person whether free or a slave, a horse was a car, a “mouse” was a mouse, a woman’s place was in the home, and a chairwoman” would have been a woman big fat white men sat on. Should we still be using the language of Johnathan Swift? Maybe Swift had a point about the Irish: let them eat their babies if they are to survive the potato famine. But I don’t think he was right about language.
Jean Aitcheson: Conflicting Loyalties
- “Don’t pay much attention to the behaviour of others, unless it is dramatically different from the norm”
- “Exaggerated the situation considerably”
- “Suddenly emerges into popular consciousness”
- “Sloppy language”
- “Centre of considerable cultural and commercial importance”
- “The spread of a hypercorrect pronunciation”
- “There appears to be a tug of war going on”
- “We can not predict a movement in any one direction”
- “The shop-assistant phenomenon suggests that changes move from one network to another via weak links”
Q4 – LC
The ridiculous idea that the British language is becoming ‘sloppy’ is an idea which is becoming more prevalent within society. But, surely people have ‘exaggerated the situation considerably’ as what gives people the right to say that the way someone speaks is worse than another person? It baffles me that ‘there appears to be a tug of war going on’ which involves something so insufficient compared to other situations going on. People nowadays get more riled up about someone not pronouncing their ‘t’s’ at the end of their words than the fact that there are 36 million people who will die from starvation this year alone. If you put language change into perspective, then it makes you really question why so many people ‘overreact to it’. If your kid is using “like” in the wrong way, saying “innit” for isn’t it, ending sentences with prepositions, or even dropping them altogether, is their language in any way worse? For is your language worse than the language of the generation before? Or just different? What would Shakespeare think? Or Samuel Johnson? He who had “laboured to refine our language to grammatical purity, and to clear it from colloquial barbarisms, licentious idioms and irregular combinations”?
Q4 – PC
Welcome to the days where everything you say is wrong. We are now constantly scrutinised for the words that we use, our human rights of freedom to speech are no longer enforced. Why has everyone become so sensitive all of a sudden? GREGGS is now changing its name due to the fact that it is too masculine so is offending women, Mothercare is turning into Parentcare to make sure there is no discrimination about different types of families and finally MANchester is in the process of being called PERSONchester! Everyone has gone mad. In an attempt to be fully inclusive of everyone in society they have gone a step too far. I can understand (to a point) why we are taught to refrain from using terms such as “third world”, as this completely separates people and makes them seem like they don’t belong and are inferior. However, there are some examples which have just crossed the line. Everyone appears to be taking offence to every little thing that is being said: or is it more about the media blowing things out of proportion in order to gain a reaction? Is there really anything to what those two linguists Sapir and Whorf said about language? That it has the power to influence the world that surrounds you? Or even that it shapes the way we see the world? Or even that it is a prison-house in which we exist? Can’t we think, outside our language? And if not, can we change the way we think by changing those words we think in?
PC – Q4
Another situation which has sparked debate is one which is changing the name of job titles. Policeman is now more properly called a ‘Police Officer’ to reduce the impact it is thought to have on women; or at least to stop perpetuating the rather unhelpful stereotype that only men can police, or protect or stand for law and order. Plus, if it is a gender neutral term, then it could encourage women to pursue careers that were always typically portrayed as a man’s job. This is a positive outcome of political correctness as it is trying to reduce barriers which have been put up in order to allow one group of people within society to excel more than others. On the other hand, the job role of a nurse has strong connotations of a woman yet the number of male nurses are increasing. Does this mean that we will have to change the name of this job role as well in order to accommodate others? Do we really have to step on egg shells in case we accidentally insult someone by using the wrong pronoun? George Orwell wrote convincingly on the dangers inherent in this approach: Big Brother is watching you! Yet, even more invidiously, Newspeak is thinking for you!
As society has progressed, the English language has become much more relaxed and lexis that we used to use for people that we were close to. Goodman argues that we are living in a time of increased Informalisation, which is the process whereby language forms that were traditionally reserved for close personal relationships are now used in wider social contexts. The noun ‘babe’ has become a pet name and is now commonly used in passing, however in the past it is more likely to be used in closer relationships and have a deeper meaning. This is related to Fairclough’s idea that language is becoming more coversationalised as professional encounters are increasingly likely to contain informal forms of English. Some would argue that increased ‘Informalisation’ in a range of contexts breaks down barriers between ‘them’ and ‘us’. However, there are others would argue that barriers remain but we are more likely to be manipulated if they appear not to be. Either way, our language is certainly changing, either reflecting shifts in society, or informing them.
The idea that PC has no place in language is one often pushed by those with a misinformed view of what PC actually is. Having been misled by the UK tabloid media, PC and health and safety have somehow become confused and intertwined as one phenomenon, when in reality they are completely different ideas. PC is in fact useful in preventing the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes, for example the concrete noun ‘Chairman’ may perpetuate the idea that only males can hold this position – one of power – and may prevent women from pursuing this position from a young age, due to the ‘man made language’ (Spender). By instead referring to the position as simply ‘chair’ or ‘chairperson,’ we are preventing the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes, and are avoiding ‘blocking’ women from certain jobs, helping the development of society thus proving the worth of PC. George Orwell and others though have given us many warnings on the danger of this approach: are we giving too much power to those who decide what words we use? This depends on a. Who are these people who decide what is and what is not PC? (Answer: there’s no shadowy cabal behind PC) And b. does it matter? Orwell would agree with Sapir & Whorf: yes it does! Language might best be considered as a “prison house”.
Q4 – PC
Despite what bigoted buffoons will lead you to believe, PC does in fact hold a worthwhile position in society. In between frothing at the mouth screaming ‘PC has gone mad’ because their local park has been shut down (not PC at all) and rambling on about how it was okay to say ‘half cast’ in their day, if they took a minute to find out what PC actually is and how it benefits us all they may understand. Instead of PC being about petty things that the media push, like calling criminals ‘behaviourally challenged,’ and changing bin men to ‘sanitation officers,’ PC is instead about preventing harmful ideas from spreading. An example of this is reducing the slut shaming of women that occurs from day to day, in a bid to stop the spreading of the disgusting idea that men are for some reason immune to being sluts, and that men having multiple sexual partners is well respected whereas women are shamed for the same thing. Respected linguistic theorists Sapir and Whorf did extensive (well, not really – they kind of just pretended to talk to Eskimos Native Americans) research into this topic, finding that if there are more words for a term (e.g women having multiple sexual partners) then the idea is likely to be spread and, in such a case as this, stigmatised more, e.g the slut shaming of women with words like whore, slut and slag as opposed to the only male variant, which is still just a ploy on the female version – man slut.
Despite its undeniable benefits, there are times when PC has its limits, potentially masking the true meaning of words and creating inefficiencies within language. For example, the recent developments in attempting to reduce the use of the descriptive adjective “fat.” George Orwell would see the rise in the use of evaluative adjectives such as “person of size,” obfuscatory, hiding the real issue of the matter – the person is fat. If the meaning of some words continue to be hidden by PC, language may become inefficient and lead to a society that is constantly masking the truth of situations, leading to some people potentially making unhealthy decisions, such as fat people not losing weight as they have been lied to by society and developed the idea that it is normal to be fat, when in reality it is unhealthy. That said, languages have been operating with euphemisms for as long as they have existed, and however much George Orwell cries out at the potential dangers, our language is still pretty healthy.
Q4/Q1 – LC
I was on the bus on my way into London last weekend and I could help but overhear a conversation between an elderly couple in front. Well, I say I overhear, but to be honest I think you’d have to be deaf to not have heard them. They were talking, or complaining should I say, about the so called ‘language’ of today’s youth; as if we get by, communicating with completely identical utterances. They’re not the first people to have this view that young people are somehow to “blame” for the alleged awful disease that is language change; that words such as “peng” are ruining the beautiful castle that is our English language and causing it to crumble and that these changes are destructive. Yes, many such perscriptivists do believe that new words introduced by the younger generation are contributing to this ‘crumbling’ of our grand linguistic ‘castle’, but how about they look at it from another perspective? How about they consider that these changes are actually bettering our language, contributing to the building of the castle and adding variety to our language? In a way that the castle that was Shakespeare’s language or Keats language was similarly constructed over centuries by the street urchins, the lords and ladies, and the charwomen, all of whom own language and own its changes. Anyway, whether you like it or not, language change can’t be stopped, irrelevant of these so called language villains.
Q4 – LC
Here’s another thing which people are making a storm in a teacup about- the changing in meaning of the word “basic” and I think the blame is heading towards Kate Moss for this one. She first used it in an advert in the terms of “you’re a basic bi**h” and now, like an infectious disease, everyone seems to be using it. So, ‘basic’ originally meant plain and simple and now can be used to describe someone who is perhaps afraid to express individuality. Some people, unknown to the rest of us, seem to believe that language change is lazy and Jean Aitchison, Professor at the University of Oxford, uses a clever ‘damp spoon’ analogy to describe these beliefs which suggest that change is a result of sloppiness. Really though, changing the meaning of a word is innovative as opposed to lazy and it can actually fill gaps in language for meanings which before didn’t have a word linked to them. You don’t see anyone throwing a fit about the meaning of “nice” changing from ‘ignorant’ to ‘pleasant’ nowadays, so why should we complain about the changing in meaning of the word ‘basic’? It makes no sense.
Q4 – LC
You’re probably now immune to walking past people in the street using the most dreaded structure that is…double negatives. Whether it’s ‘I haven’t done nothing wrong’, ‘I don’t know nothing’ or ‘I ain’t giving you no money’, the use of double or triple negatives is becoming much more common over recent years but has been scorned by perscriptivists such as Professor of Grammar, Robert Lowth for being grammatically horrific and completely rivalling ‘rules’ of grammar. What people seem to be forgetting is that one of our most respected poets Shakespeare rebelliously used multiple negatives in his most famous pieces of literature. Nobody attempted to frame Shakespeare as being some sort of grammatical demon, so 500 years later I think it’s safe to say that people are completely overreacting when claiming that the use of double negatives is a new thing and that it is completely ruining our language. If Shakespeare thinks it’s ok to use double negatives, who are we to say that it isn’t? This just proves that the protest against language change holds little substance.
Deborah Cameron: Verbal Hygiene
* Hackney Council, we were told, to abolish the term manhole by order of it’s Women’s Committee.
* Didn’t diminish the power of stories like the one about “black coffee” as symbols of what was wrong with the so-called “loony left”
* For some twenty years, speakers of English have been in a position to observe a linguistic guerrilla war raging all around them.
* (Political correctness is) An attack on the language and on the possibility of communication.
* Language reflects society
* Verbal hygiene practices are obviously about non-linguistic matters of political beliefs or allegiance, they are also about the nature of language itself and about peoples conceptualisations of language.
* Objections to linguistic reform tend to focus much more in language than on the social questions at issue.
* (Verbal hygiene isn’t only) a crisis of cultural values; it is also a crisis for common sense.
Q1 – PC
Political correctness is necessary within our language. Some may argue that it creates boundaries, restricting what we are allowed to say; however, this can be a positive attribute to create social order within out language. Deborah Cameron would argue that “language can be controlled” by the use of verbal hygiene. This is the attempt to “cleanse” our language to put a stop to the negative and offensive connotations which it creates. Verbal hygiene mainly involves replacing offensive language with language which is “politically correct” for example, replacing ‘disabled’ with ‘physically challenged’. It can be argued that this causes people’s language to become much more controlled as there are now social restrictions put in place which urges to stop people from perpetuating negative stereotypes within their language. However, this may create a negative view on political correctness and cause people to believe that the use of verbal hygiene to achieve political correctness threatens freedom of expression within our language, which was very much George Orwell’s argument.
Q4 – PC
As an advocate of non-fascists, I believe Donald Trump, known for being the 45th present of the United States and also a sexists man-child, needs his mouth washing out with soap. A lot of it. To put it in technical terms, well known linguist Deborah Cameron would say he could do with a spot of “verbal hygiene.” Today, there is a “crisis for common sense”, of what is viewed as social acceptable to say within our language. Due to the views of the mass media, there has been a negative portrayal of political correct, shaping the views of society suggesting that it’s unnecessary and only for the likes of the “looney-left.” But surely it’s common sense; that if we can be a little more careful with our language we can live in a more tolerant world, less filled with harmful stereotypes?
Sexism – Language The Loaded Weapon by Dwight Bolinger (1980)
* “As with other relatively powerless classes, there is a heavy representation of epithets and similar unfavourable terms, more than for men.”
* “Being old puts one in another class of the powerless. Being old and female puts one on the verge of being an outcast.”
* “The skin deep phenomenon”
* “The women-as-property iceberg”
* “When a woman is at fault, it is often because she is a woman; when a man is at fault, it is more often because he is cruel, or dishonest, or cowardly, or ambitious.”
* “So no solution is in sight. The writer or speaker has to choose between perpetuation sexist language and making a mess of the grammar.”
* “Terms like chairperson seem to be specializing to women while, chairman is reserved for men.”
* “Linguistic asymmetry is everywhere.”
* “Women inherit their place as speakers inherit their words.”
Q1 – Evaluate the idea that our language is degenerate:
Over time our language develops and changes, if not improving it, certainly not making it worse: the idea that our language degenerates over time is that of a prescriptive view, rejecting things such as the possibility of positive change and the rationale of political correctness, instead subscribing to one of the three positions that Jean Aitchison parodies. These pointedly ridiculous positions on language change of the crumbling castle view, damp spoon syndrome and infectious disease assumption, are the three prongs Aitchison’s very convincing attack of prescriptivist views. While all these paradoxes mock prescriptive views of language degenerating and deteriorating, language could be seen to develops and to be built on instead. As the English language is often referred to as a web where new lines of the web are made language becomes more complex and developed over time due to changes such as semantic shifts, neologisms and other developments both in wider society such as political correctness. Therefore, in disagreement to the idea that language degenerates, language could be seen to improve as things such as political correctness have helped with the development and improvement of language in order to help avoid the perpetuation of problematic stereotypes as Bolinger argues “linguistic asymmetry is everywhere” and so specifically with the issue of sexism in language, change needs to occur to help remove the sexism within our language and therefore help improve and develop language rather than degenerate it.
The very idea that without PC our language would be better and not have “deteriorated” or crumbled like in linguist Jean Aitchison’s crumbling castle paradox is preposterous. Having grown up hearing how boys will grow up to be chairmen and
businessmen, while myself a homemaker or nurse because of my gender is disheartening to say the least. The reality of our language is that it is, as linguist Dwight Bolinger would argue, “not a neutral instrument”. A dominant part of our language is this twisted fascination with encouraging men and putting them on a pedestal while simultaneously slandering women. This is “as with other relatively powerless classes, there is a heavy representation of epithets and similar unfavourable terms, more than for men” (Dwight Bolinger). This is supported by our use of derogatory terms such as slag, slut, whore, and a whole host of distasteful pronouns used in across all forms of media, transmitting the message out further to even younger generations. But I ask you, can you think of any equally damaging terms for a man? “Manwhore” maybe, “manslut” too? Interesting to see that only when we choose to argue back to our oppressors disguised as knights that we feel the only possible was is to add a prefix of “man”. Coincidence? I think not. For centuries the idea of male as norm has been used but not so much questioned by anyone except pioneering feminists and PC supporters. It’s always nice to see how if young man and a young woman sleep together outside of marriage, the woman is seen as “promiscuous” while the man a “stud”. These double standards of what is acceptable for a man and what is acceptable for a woman need to change and as “sexism in language will grow less as women are accepted more, in the roles that men have traditionally occupied”. When that change to remove sexism in our language will happen I wait for that change to happen.
Question 4: Directed Writing on PC
Do we really need PC?
This whole concept of PC is nothing to do with offence but more so what is just blatantly right or wrong. For instance, if I walked down the road and shouted “fatty” at you, you wouldn’t stand for it yet here we are in 2018 and it somehow still seems almost second nature for people to normalise the idea of male being the norm in our language. No. While you’re at it you may as well just go around calling the homeless hobo’s. This preconceived idea that one day children will grow up to become “postmen” or “policemen”, or that the default is “he” is a notion which is slowly but surely murdering the aspirations of young girls not only here in the UK but globally.
While I do appreciate there has been some advancement in the development of PC and so the development of our language, for years’ men and women’s occupations have to been segregated by their title and differentiated into a male and a female term for the same job. Men have been called “actors” while women “actresses”, “lady doctors” instead of just “doctors” therefore downplaying women’s role in society and further perpetuating the dated idea that male is norm. For example, the default pronoun “he” reinforces to women and girls that when they grow up men will be controlling their lives and quite possibly their thoughts too. I know that at least for me growing up always hearing “policeman” and “chairman” certainly told me that those were jobs for men and “not for the likes of us”. However, as linguist Peter Trudgill says, “language as a social phenomenon is closely related to social attitudes”. It isn’t language that is the problem, reality is the problem. We need to stop socialising children into the idea that certain jobs are for men while others for women. As linguists Sapir and Whorf’s theory of linguistic relativism argues, our language influences our thoughts about the real world, so we need to change our language so that seven-year-olds are no longer growing up thinking they can’t be a chairman because they are a girl or that they can’t be a policeman because that’s a man’s job. We need to stop forcing the idea on young impressionable children that they cannot do something simply because they are female.
So, is there no future for political correctness? The simple answer would be no our language will always keep developing along with PC, but much like how PC isn’t clear cut the answer isn’t either. It is hard to tell whether new PC terms will work and catch on. Admittedly using words such as “holiday tree” instead of “Christmas tree” may be a bit of an unnecessary stretch, but for the most part replacing “half-caste” with “dual heritage” and “policeman” with “police officer” and using singular they much to some people’s despair will surely have to help the cause of political correctness and language change.
Question 1: Evaluate the idea that language degenerates
The idea that language degenerates over time is a rather prescriptive view, in reality language is, as Pinker argues, a web in which multiple aspects of our language link to each other and so works as one. As time goes on our language is also further creatively built on and thankfully develops rather than decays or degenerates.
Firstly, Aitchison argues that there are three parodies of language change. Although Aitchison herself does not hold these views herself she talks about the damp spoon, crumbling castle, and infectious disease analogies. The idea of the damp spoon analogy is the idea that language change is unfortunately due to laziness and sloppiness. For example, the use of abbreviations such as “LOL”, “gym”, “exam” and “OMG” are wrongly seen as sloppy in this prescriptive view and so are ‘damaging our language’. The crumbling castle view is the idea that our language was once a beautiful castle which is now being damaged by changes such as the use of slang. The infectious disease theory is that language changes catch on like an infectious disease. For example, Kate Moss coined the phrase “basic bitch” using the adjective “basic” in a new context. By the infectious disease theory this caught on and has ‘made our language degenerate’. However, language changes and variations are not like a disease and unlike a disease, which you cannot choose to get or not, people individually have a choice whether or not they accept and take on a new change.
Deutscher argues that there are three motives for language change. These are economy, which refer to the tendency to save effort and make short-cuts, expression, which refers to a speakers attempt to achieve greater effect in their speech, and analogy, which refers to order and the mind wanting language to have order. Deutscher takes a more prescriptive view on language, for example with his expressiveness theory he argues that there is a constant battle against cliché language and language bleached of meaning. For example, the adjective “good” became overused and less effective and meaningful therefore people started to use metaphors like “brilliant”, which then also became too overused and then turned into a dead metaphor and cliché. Therefore, Deutscher would argue that language is degenerate, however in reality language is just changing and new meanings of words are being created. Although some metaphors such as “brilliant” may die new metaphors are also being created to replace them and therefore improving language.
Finally, Hockett argues that language changes come from errors which have then by mistake caught on. For example, the adjective “disinterested” means to be uninterested. This however came about from misunderstanding of the original meaning which as a matter of fact was the opposite of its current definition. However, admittedly some new meanings are from ‘errors’ these new meanings are actually helping to build on our current language. Similarly, Postal argues that words may come in and out of fashion and therefore may be dropped from our language. While words may not be ‘dropped’ from our language the idea that some words and phrases may be used more than others might be more plausible. This is as for example, with time words may be viewed as more ‘old-fashioned’ than others so therefore people may interestingly create newer language to almost ‘replace’ the old phrase, while also still using them. This is therefore showing how our language is built on and how our language does not decay over time.
Q1/2 – Language Change
There are some people who believe in Atchison’s “Crumbling Castle” parody theory: they believe that changes within language are damaging and are ruining something that was once beautiful, but also something that was carefully constructed over millennia according to some grand plan, much like a gothic cathedral. Although these prescriptivists may pride themselves on using only the most English words, those words they think of as always being English, they’re unaware of the origins of the majority of the words in their vocabulary. Take “orange”, a concrete noun or descriptive adjective (depending on how you use it), for example. It may have appeared in the late middle English ‘period’, but it was taken from ‘old French’ and before that, it was an Arabic word. This word is certainly not part of any concerted effort by people who lived in England in the past to construct a perfect language.
Although many may argue that younger generations don’t sound ‘right’, due to their use of words such as the contraction “innit”, it could be argued that by using such words with their peers, they are showing solidarity and performing their own identity. Use of this word is moving away from the standard and so could be described as downwardly diverging (Trudgill) from the language that older people may use, although this can be a slightly problematic view. Many prescriptivists would argue that use of “innit” is lazy, much like that of Jean Aitchison’s “damp spoon” metaphor; however in reality, language change is inevitable and can’t be blamed on the ‘laziness’ of one group of people. What might be seen as something resulting from laziness, could just as easily be seen to be the consequence of what Guy Deutscher would see as the improving efficiency of our language: “innit” is just more efficient than “isn’t it”, so in a way making our language more effective at communicating meaning.
Guy Deutscher argues that language change can be destruction but eventually leads to creation. This outlook can be adopted by descriptivists and prescriptivists alike as it shows both sides of the argument yet does come to the conclusion that language is in a constant state of flux. The changes aren’t good or bad, just natural to how all languages work. So the word “literally” being used to mean “metaphorically” according to some, is just one instance of our constant efforts to stay one step ahead of the game and come up with new words meaning “very” or “really” if our language is to retain its force or expressiveness. Yes, we could keep using “very” or “really” as our main adverbs of degree, but they were once made up too, taken from “verily” meaning truthfully, or “in reality”. Why did people need new adverbs of degree back then? For the same reason we do now: language needs to be constantly revived and rejuvenated if it is to work as well for us as it did for our great-grandmothers.