Children Can’t Speak or Write Properly Anymore – James Milroy

James Milroy’s main point:

ž  Within his article, James Milroy makes a few points although the main theme running through his article is his argument as to whether there was once a Golden Age within spoken and written language.

ž  Some Linguists and Theorists have commented that there was once a time in our English Language that both Spoken and Written language was perfect and unmistakeable. It appears we were all using the English Grammar and Language use was at its best.

ž  James Milroy however tackles this belief and provides the evidence that suggests there was never such a period of time as the Golden Age of the English Language.

Therefore Milroy is arguing for a loss in the attitude that there was ever a Golden Age.

ž  Milroy also tackles the belief that rote learning and persistent testing are the best methods for learning language.

ž  Something of the past was consistently to have spelling tests as a way of trying to learn the English vocabulary and spellings and also have grammar tests. Milroy makes it clear that he does not feel such learning is always the best way to grasp a language despite the Government reinforcing such methods nowadays.

ž  Milroy also tackles the view that written English is lacking proper grammar and correct spelling, whilst spoken language differently is without variety.

ž  Milroy tries to disprove the idea of a “Golden Age” of language.

ž  Considering the English Language was only standardised in 1755, Milroy tries to suggest there has never been such a time period of language excellence.

In the 18th century as well as 19th century, 40 percent of brides and bridegrooms could not write their own name. This disproves any belief of perfect reading and writing in that time.

ž  The 20th century?

1970s, 1980s and 1990s there have been the same complaints of the loss of the “Golden Age”. Therefore it couldn’t have been in those decades.

ž  Milroy senses the only possible time for such a Golden Age was between 1940 and 1965, although this seems unlikely.

ž  In the 1950’s there were fewer than twenty universities nationwide. You would think therefore there is less likely to have been a “Golden Age” of language then than today when we have some few hundred universities.

It makes little sense.

However 1944 did see an introduction of the Education Act. Never before was secondary education compulsory however the introduction of this act saw encouragement for both second and tertiary education.

Milroy uses the evidence that generally children learn to read and write at school. They do not learn to speak at school.

Therefore, for all we know, speech amongst children today is something of the parent’s issue in raising their child, not of their education.

Why children “cant speak” can only be addressed as something of a parental problem.

ž  Milroy uses his own personal example on the procedure of a spelling test.

ž  Milroy went to a rural school in the 1940s and whenever taking a Spelling Test and receiving their marks, their teacher would draw a line of chalk on the floor. Those who got full marks would stand on one side of the chalk line whilst the others who had incorrectly spelt more than three words would stand on the opposite side of the chalk line.

ž  Those with the incorrect spellings would then be given a strap on the hand and those who were continually wrong with the most incorrect spelt words were given multiple straps on the hand.

ž  Generally, it would be the same children that would be given a strap on the hand. Thus suggesting that this form of rote learning was not that effective.

From the Observer

For some time I have been wondering if I was suffering from an acute shortage of memory. I remember when many children in my Primary School who were unable to read….. When exactly was the time we hear so much about, when children could all read and write and do everything so much better than today’s pupils?”

This letter acts as supporting evidence to Milroy as it to questions when the “Golden Age” was.

This writer to the observer is struggling just as much as Milroy is to find when the “Golden Age” ever took place.

Other Theorists?

ž  Milroy could look to Jean Aitcheson for support. She feels language is continually developing and is not deteriorating because of generation change.

ž  However, Guy Deutscher would disagree. Guy Deutscher is a prescriptivist and does not see language change as something good. Instead he would support the idea that today’s generations are leading to today’s children not being able to speak properly or write correctly.

“It does not of course follow that everyone will be certain of the spellings of supersede and dilapidate”

ž  This suggests that throughout all times there can never be a Golden Age of language because not everyone will always know how to write such words as “supersede” and “dilapidate”.

ž  The highly literate people even have difficulties with such spelling and because of that it seems it will always be hard to measure literacy in order to conclude when there was a golden age of English Language use.

“Teaching methods should certainly be debated, but there is no reason to believe that exclusive reliance on classroom drills and rote learning was particularly successful in the past.”

ž  Milroy does not feel such rote learning as continually shouting out or using a methodical way of learning grammar and spellings is that useful.

ž  In the past, the grammar use and percentage of literate children was poor, therefore Milroy sees no basis as to why on earth we would ever return to the old methods of teaching.

“Young people, it is said, are liable to misuse the language, or not learn it properly”

ž  Our young generation of today are being held responsible for the reason as to why there is a decline in today’s English Language use.

ž  Does this link in with all the other things we are being accused of?

ž  Increased crime, increased laziness, increased rudeness and other such accusations of today’s young generation.

ž  “not learn it properly”- what if it isn’t young people’s faults, maybe we aren’t being taught it properly, that is the question.

“Is there any really persuasive evidence that literacy standards have declined?”

ž  Evidently there is no secure and sound evidence that such a decline is occurring. There is no concrete evidence which suggests for sure we are seeing a decline in language use.

ž  Use of rhetorical tries to get the reader thinking their opinion, has language actually changed that much?

“Like complaints about declining literacy, they are largely untrue” (referring to spoken Language)

ž  Milroy comments here that spoken language is not in decline either. It seems that there is no issue regarding the variety and way in which people speak today.

ž  There may be issues surrounding how people speak today because speech is evolving. We tend to use more slang variants today in our spoken language such as “I’d”, “should’ve” and “could’ve” contractions. Something that is not elitist spoken language. For some this would suggest a decline in today’s Spoken language.

“There was no Golden Age”

ž  This quote simply summarises Milroy’s main message within his article.

ž  He feels that confident that he tries to convince as well as persuade the reader of his view by point blankly stating no Golden Language ever existed with Language.

ž  Simple sentence= simple persuasive remark to all readers.

My opinion?

ž  I do agree with Milroy. There has never been a “Golden Age” of language, language has never been of a perfect form, spoken or written.

ž  Personally I feel we are building towards a “Golden Age” in which nationally and globally, everyone shall be literate and be able use language freely.

However we are far from reaching that day.

ž  Particular words are not in decline either, such as the use of “init” or “safe” to mean good, instead, language is just evolving.


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