The Media are Ruining English? – Jean Aitchison

WHAT IS THE CENTRAL CONTENTION OF THE ESSAY?

  • Aitchison’s main point of the essay is that the media are not ruining English, they are merely using old forms of words that were less common and spreading that usage.
  • Aitchison feels that the media picks up on new words early on and spreads their usage.
  • Essentially she argues that the media spreads the way people in different regions speak but do not invent the new words therefore cannot be blamed for ruining language.
  • She is arguing against the prescriptivist view that the media is being ruined and getting worse, in this case by the media, because she says language change is inevitable.

WHAT EXAMPLES DOES THE AUTHOR USE?

  • The author gives an example from David Crystal’s 1982 Top Twenty of the complaints about broadcast language over the misuse of ‘you and I’ as oppose to ‘you and me’. She reminds readers of Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice, when Antonio says ‘All debts are cleared between you and I’ this utterance breaks the rule that ‘you and me’ is the right form after a preposition.
  • She also gives examples of the word ‘gay’ for ‘homosexual’ and says this term had long been in use in San Francisco and that other terms used as ‘queer’ and ‘poof’ were pushed aside.
  • Also, the term ‘wimp’ for a feeble male had also been around for years in California before eventually expelling terms for a weak/insignificant person eg. Nerd.
  • She also explains the development of the term ‘mini’ as a prefix to certain words, originally used in 1845 in the Scotsman newspaper, which provides evidence for the idea the media spread language change, with the term ‘minibus’. The prefix ‘mini’ was later used in front of terms such as ‘mini-camera’, ‘mini-piano’ and ‘mini-van’
  • These examples give evidence that the media may be the initial reason behind language change as they start a change but it’s the people and the regional area which may be behind the spread of a usage of a word.

WHAT OTHER THEORISTS DOES THE AUTHOR REFER TO (OR COULD REFER TO)

  • Aitchison refers to the theorist William Labov’s ‘young cuckoo’ model.  He argues that it is competition at the root of language change and not a change from one stage to the next. He demonstrated that a new version of a word arises in a community and competes to become the only word meaning the same thing used in that community.
  • Aitchison agrees with this and says that old and new forms coexist and compete and the old word is not magically transformed into the new.

LIST IMPORTANT QUOTATIONS FROM THE ESSAY AND EXPLAIN WHY THEY ARE IMPORTANT

  • ‘The media are therefore linguistic mirrors: they reflect current language usage and extend it’ this quote is important as it emphasises Aitchisons point that the media are simply reinforcing current usages of a word.
  • ‘Radio and television reproduce the various ways of speaking we hear around, they do not invent them’ this quote shows Aitchisons view that it is the publics use of words in a certain way in a certain area that gets spread by the media. She argues the media don’t invent new words and therefore can’t be blamed for ruining English
  • ‘The media nurtured the mini- explosion by reporting the news’ this shows that it is the media that enforce and build on words in their early form when they are only used in a small area, then when the news is reported this usage is spread across society. This shows Aitchison’s idea that the media is simply the driving force behind new words being spread but they do not invent new words.
  • ‘Disliked usages are frequently assumed by grumblers to be new, a sign of modern decadence’ this quote is important as it shows that Aitchison feels that those who oppose changes in language think that they are new and decaying our language, however this quote suggests the ‘grumblers’ get it wrong and these usages have been around for a long time.

 

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