Decline of English Grammar

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by the wickerman, Apr 8, 2006.

  1. the wickerman New Member

    Why is it that while most the grammatical rules of English have deteriorated so much over the past few centuries when compared to other European languages? For example, English used to respect the t-v distinction (having thou/thee and ye/you). The subjective and objective cases almost seem to be merged when hardly anyone uses the word "whom" any more (except in very formal communication).

    To give a more extreme example, my school French teacher was teaching us the subjunctive mood in class last year and started off by claiming that the subjunctive "doesn't exist in English"! Of course it does, but so few people ever use it any more that even this well-educated linguist didn't realise it.

    There are countless other examples of how English grammar has decayed that are too trivial to list here. When I read French written at the time of Shakespeare it is in some cases only slightly more difficult to understand than English written at this time, such is the extent to which English has changed over the years. Even though all languages evolve over time, is there any reason why English should change so much compared to other languages?
  2. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City

    I think "decline" and "deterioration" are rather negative ways of looking at it. If you said English has become "more simple" I think you would be saying the same thing in a more neutral fashion.

    How many English speakers lament that English lacks grammatical gender? How many English speakers wish their verb forms were as complex as they are in French, Spanish and Italian? How many English speakers wish nouns could be put in the acusative, nominative, ablative or dative? I don't think that many do.

    I don't think the English subjunctive, however, is gone. It just looks just like the indicative. I believe that when one says "I hope he comes" it's in the subjunctive except that "comes" in the subjunctive looks just like "comes" in the indicative. It's just like "cut", "put" and "hit" which look in the present just like they do in the past. I wouldn't say the past of "cut" doesn't exist just because it looks just like the present. And by the same token, we wouldn't say that the imperative in English is gone because one says "You open the door." and "You, open the door!" The latter is clearly in the imperative even if the verbal form is identical to the present indicative.

    Linguists call this polysemy and English has a great deal of it. Of course, some verbs have different forms in the subjunctive like "He is here." and "I wish he were here."

    There is some debate about why English got rid of a lot of the grammar it used to have. Some say that English is a creole, that it's the product of a pidgin language, and that's why it's so simple. Others say that English is heavily creolized and other say that English is not a creole at all.

    There does seems to be a relationship between language complexity and number of speakers (the less people speak a language the more complex it tends to be).

    There are tons of good books out there about the subject. If you are interested in some recommendations, let me know.

    Ciao for now!
  3. Moogey Senior Member

    New Jersey, USA
    USA English
    I agree with many of the things you said Residente Calle 13.

    I can tell you the #1 reason I think we've declined gramatically. In the US, they've stopped teaching grammar in public schools. That makes up more than half (perhaps 3/4 -- a guess?) of the students in the US. And, I'm in a private school and they don't teach it there now either! People will speak improperly if they don't know how to speak properly. If they can speak the way they do and people understand them, why would they take the time to find out how to speak properly? (<-- their logic). If they were taught how to speak English properly, they probably would.

    I think the fact that the US alone doesn't teach much English grammar can affect other English-speaking countries in our communications (regular/business) and sharing of the arts (such as books, movies, music, etc.).

    There are many things in English grammar that are confusing but don't have to be-- people just have to be taught proper English and before it's too late and talking improperly is second nature!

  4. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU

    Either this is a strange logical deduction, or you mean fewer, rather than less.

    Henry Fowler would be chuckling heartily.
  5. jimreilly

    jimreilly Senior Member

    American English
    I'm not sure anyone having to learn English (such as a West African friend of mine) would think English simple compared to other languages, including French.

    I think the best way to describe at least some of what has happened is just to say the language has changed, not that it has deteriorated or gotten more simple. Languages change for many reasons, and English is not the only language to have experience rapid change in the last 100 years (take a look at Norwegian, for example).

    I, like many people, find some of the changes disconcerting, but I can bring myself down to earth a bit by asking some questions. Would I really miss "whom" if it had never existed? No. Would I really miss the subjunctive? No. I wouldn't miss it if it were to cease to exist in French, either, and speakers of French sometimes neglect to use it when they "should". Yes, even native French speakers make mistakes when they use or do not use the subjunctive!

    For that matter, if English verbs didn't even change endings depending on the person of the subject (e.g. I am, you are, he is, etc.) and were like Norwegian (jeg er, du er, han er, etc.) or some other languages, would I mind? Of course I would, but only because I'm used to English as it is. Norwegians don't seem to mind at all.

    It's a mistake to think of a language at a certain point in history as a logical, good system, one that would be ruined if it were to "deteriorate".

    Change is one sign of vitality and creativity, too. Or, at least, sometimes it is. Some of my friends who speak with far from standard grammar nevertheless have and use a language filled with vitality and creativity. They rarely fail to communicate what they mean to say, and they sometimes do it far more vividly than I do.

    Change is also hard to accept. Or, at least, sometimes it is.
  6. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    First, I want to say that I agree with just about everything you said. I would like, only, to clarify what I mean when I say English has "gotten simpler" or "is relatively simple."

    If your West African friend speaks Fula he might think English is very hard. But as an English speaker, the fact that Fula has sixteen genders, each marked by a different article, is mind-boggling. Chances are if your friend started to explain how his language works you would wonder how it's even possible that it's managed to be spoken. There are many factors, I think, that make Fula harder for an English speaker to learn than the other way around.

    By the same token, I have a Kenyan friend who says that the language of his village is much more complex than Swahili which is already complicated as heck to me and which is child's play to him.

    If you take a look a Finnish grammar, I think you will come to the conclusion
    that's it's a very hard to learn language compared to English.

    I think some languages are "simpler" than others. This does not mean that
    the people in my Kenyan's friend village are more sophisticated than Swahili
    speakers or that Finns are more intelligent than Englishmen. It's independant of intellect and I don't think Fula children or Finns take longer
    to learn how to talk. Pidgins are the simplest of all languages but that does not mean that people who speak pidgins are simple. In any case, vary few people have been recorded to be monolingual pidgin speakers.

    But English is, says Steven Pinker, all things being equal, relatively easy to learn; conjugations are simple, there are no grammatical genders and very few inflections overall (127).

    And the inflections have gotten "simpler" since the days of Old English.


    1st singe I sing
    2nd singest you sing
    3rd sing he/she/it sings

    1st sing we sing
    2nd sing you sing
    3rd sing they sing

    There aren't any genders or cases in today's English, except for
    pronouns (in Old English there were) so that's "simpler."

    Now I don't mean to say that the language is being "dumbed
    down", it's just getting simpler in it's inflections. But that
    also implies word order, articles, and prepositions become
    more important so in that sense, you can argue, it gets
    harder to learn for some speakers whose language don't have
    those features.

    Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York: Harper, 1994.
  7. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    What do you mean when you say that we've declined grammatically?
  8. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo moderator

    American English
    I find myself agreeing with this gross overgeneralization. :) There was a sea change in the American and British school systems that occurred in the 1960's, which you can simply intuit if you talk to people who went to elementary school in the 50's and compare their experience with those who went to elementary school in the 70's. Hell, they even stopped calling elementary school "grammar school"! Hello!

    Empirically, if you compare the curriculum and the texts from the 50's with those from the 70's and 80's, there are stark differences in which grammar is covered, how deeply, and at what age.

    I blame the hippies.
  9. danielfranco

    danielfranco Senior Member

    I think there are two different but related topics going on in this thread. One is the apparent "decline" of English grammar, and the other is the direct relationship this apparent decline has with the shortcomings of elementary education.
    As far as the apparent "decline" of grammar, it would be fair to point out that English as a language didn't get around to standarize many of its finer grammatical features until the 18th century. So I'd like to propose that for all intent and purposes we might still be going through the last stages of adjustments to this standarization process.
    I have no further comments about elementary education in the USA, except that I have two children and almost weekly I have to fine tune some aspect or other about their use of the English language. Just imagine that: me, a foreigner, having to pick up the slack...
  10. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    This is an interesting question. I don't really know the answer, but here are a few ideas:

    - It's not just English. There's a general trend in Indo-European languages towards becoming "less grammatical" -- the linguistic term is becoming more analytic. For example, most Romance languages also stripped themselves of the declensions of Latin.

    - English was forged mostly in the Middle Ages. Shakespeare, who wrote in the Renaissance, is fairly readable to modern English speakers. But the British Isles had a very complicated history in the Middle Ages. They were invaded/settled by several different peoples in succession: West Germans (Angles, Saxons and Jutes), then Norsemen (the Vikings, mostly from Denmark and Norway), then the Normans (of Norse descent, but they spoke French). I've often wondered whether all these motions of peoples and cultures back and forth forced English to simplify itself.

    Note, however, that defining what is a "simplification" in linguistics is not as straightforward as one might think.

  11. First of all, Fenix, please don't knock the hippies. When I lived as a 'hippy' in the 60s I was in the company of the crème de la crème of hippy society. They were my voluntary archaeological assistants, mostly university students who had benefited from the 1950s' education standards which you rightly praise.

    I was educated in the 1950s, at a top rate grammar school, taught exclusively by university graduates. Correct English grammar was de rigeur - woe betide any girl whose written and spoken work wasn't up to standard, punishments were dire!

    Today, in Britain, scant attention is paid by teachers to correcting grammatical errors. In fact, scant attention is paid to the quality of teaching staff employed. I heard recently that such is the shortage of teachers (who refuse to try controlling a noisy, disobedient bunch of 'yobs' and who genuinely wish to spend their time teaching instead of filling in reams of government paperwork) that people with no qualifications or teaching skills are being recruited. Some desperate head teachers are even luring in parents, who are unpaid, to help with teaching. I did a four year stint myself when my own sons were at state primary school. They were fortunate in attending a well-disciplined school employing quality teaching staff. Parental help was required for teaching 'slow learners' on a one-to-one basis - it was very rewarding to see the progress made by my little charges, who were barely able to read at age 7.

    Every year we hear of 'even better exam results than last year'. The reason is obvious - the exams are getting easier! Back in my school days I recall, in particular, my English Literature 'O' Level exam. For five years we studied several of Shakespeare's plays, classical novels by Dickens, Austen, Bronte, Goldsmith and the like, together with in depth studies of Chaucer and the major classical poets. The exam required us to show that we had interpreted and understood the different styles of each writer using quotations to illustrate our answers. Five years of study crammed into a 3 hour exam - that's what I call 'rather a challenge'. Nowadays candidates are given a couple of pieces of unseen prose and asked certain questions about it. All the answers are there for them to see. I suppose one would call that an exercise in comprehension. Certainly not an English Literature exam. Presumably their knowledge of English grammar is revealed in their written answers.

    Summing up I would say that English grammar has declined rapidly over the last half century due to ever declining standards in teaching.

    As for the changes mentioned at the start of this thread. It is obvious that since all current languages are 'living languages' then they are constantly changing, just as we who are living beings are changing. Also, since English is the most widely spoken language, in many different countries, then its usage will naturally change in accordance with the culture of those countries. Australia and the USA are prime examples of where these changes are taking place. Many USA terms are completely alien to me and I've heard some very challenging Australian English.

    The decline in grammar could be regarded as 'regrettable' but let us rejoice in the fact that we are still able to read and enjoy English 'as she was spoke and punctuated' thanks to the vast collection of books available to us.

  12. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Ah, "fewer" and "less"! And people say English is simple...
  13. the wickerman New Member

    Firstly let me say that I agree that higher exam pass rates are not entirely down to higher standards, although I would not say that exams are necessarily getting easier. Having taken GCSE English two years ago I can guarantee that it is barely worth the paper it is written on, and is a weird mish-mash of media studies and common sense. This does not mean that it is necessarily easier, but it was quite clear when I sat it very little knowledge of spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPAG in the modern exam lingo) was required. My father attended Technical School in the 1960s and looking through his first year English books I can see that he had a vastly superior knowledge of grammar than I do (and I attend a Grammar School!).

    It seems clear that there are many people who (perhaps rightly) see the regimented teaching of precise punctuation and complicated grammar as pedantry, and who prefer to see more useful skills replace those which are hardly ever used. Even the well-educated linguists on this board see the development of English grammar as the natural evolution of the language. Of course we must all be ready to accept change, as all languages change at that is part of their beauty, tracing the developments over the centuries. The problem comes when change is so rapid and incoherent that people have trouble making themselves understood. I am sure we have all read official documents from time to time where the punctuation is so bad that it is difficult to understand the precise meaning. There is much written about the poor spelling of the youth, but at least on most occasions a poorly spelt word can be understood, at its worst, poor grammar makes the written word barely comprehensible.

    On a related note, as for the reading of Shakespeare and poetry, that was covered in the English Literature exam which was much more challenging. Without this turning into a rant about how bad education is nowadays and how much better it was in my day etc., teaching methods and exam structures have changed (in some cases for the better, in some cases for the worse) and it is not helpful to turn this thread into a complaint about Govt education policy.
  14. maxiogee Banned

    The purpose of language is to allow us to express our thoughts to ohters. They need to be able to understand us.
    Language and grammar allow us to do this with an ease we sometimes do not even think about.
    If grammar falls into disuse, or if the spoken language changes then all to the good, if, and only if, the primary purpose of langauge is maintained - that is, if A speaks to B and B understands what A is saying. A language is a living thing, it grows to meet the demands placed on it by successive generations of its native speakers. Words are "borrowed" from other languages (why do we not say "stolen", we never give these borrowings back?), jargon and slang creep into the mainstream language as their users bring them into everyday speech. This is good and natural.

    Too often I watch television 'debates' or late-night forums where people speak badly constructed sentences and then have to retract, saying "What I meant to say was....." or "What I'm trying to say is...."

    One of my favourite ways of teasing my elder brother and sister (and other sloppy speakers) is to state "I know what you meant, but I heard what you said!"

    So instead of the thread's title of "Decline of English Grammar", I would offer a kinder and broader reading of the situation - "Transformation of English", as it is not just grammar which is changing, but the vocabulary and the formatting of the language also.

    While I welcome the changes, I acknowledge that it is vitally important that the rules learned long ago are not shed wilfully, but are modified only as needed so that precision and clarity can be maintained.

    (On the topic-related subject of examinations, I would just say that when I went through school I was educated, and I had examinations at the end of the process. Nowadays pupils go through school and are educated to pass examinations which are the endof the process.)
  15. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    Shed willfully? Modified for precision and clarity?

    Whom, for example, is disappearing in the US. It might be that whom is more precise but we didn't get together and decide to get rid of it. Words go out of fashion. What was once "correct" today sounds "pedantic" and gets thrown into the dustbin of History. The grammar books, and grammar teachers, and even grammar pundtis, can try to conserve what they want. Language use, is very democratic. People vote with their mouths.

    Is asking "Who do you want to go with?" sloppy? According to some it is. But I would rather sound sloppy to some egghead intellectual than like a dork to most of the people I talk to. And I think that, in the end, is what drives our choices for words and for grammar.

    May the American whom, for who I'm lighting a candle at this moment, rest in peace.
  16. I shall make allowances for your youth Wickerman. You have already said how much better your father's knowledge of English grammar was at Technical College in the 60s than yours is in the year 2006 at Grammar School.

    What conclusion do you draw from that? Standards have fallen rapidly (as other foreros have pointed out).

    It is very presumptuous of you to say that I am turning this thread into a complaint about government education policy. That was not my intention but if we are seeking for reasons as to why correct English grammar is in decline then we must look to the source of this decline, which is education.

    Every child is precious and to reach his/her full potential deserves the best possible education. For my children this began at home. I was in the fortunate position of not having to go out and work to earn a crust. Instead I devoted most of my time to teaching my sons in their formative pre-school years. I made it such fun that they probably didn't realise that they were being 'educated'. At the age of 5 my elder son was eagerly reading 'The Observer's Book of Birds' which he had specifically requested as a birthday present. At the same age at school he filled six exercise books with his account of Roald Dahl's 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'. His younger brother was equally gifted. On their own merit they both won scholarships to a leading Public School. My elder son was invited to sit for a scholarship to Eton but we declined the offer.

    Call me 'boastful' if you wish. It is the duty of every parent to assist their offspring in the learning process but these days it is happening less and less, due largely to socio-economic factors. Badly educated teenage girls are giving birth to babies and bringing them up without the support of the father. What chance is there for such infants?

    I reserve my right to criticise government education policy - it's at 'The Heart of the Matter' (to quote a TV documentary series hosted by Joan Bakewell).

    But in no way am I turning this thread into a criticism of government policy. I am merely stating the obvious - it is very relevant to the topic. Why do you think T Blair is now running scared and talking of handing over many schools into the care of the private sector. Why do he and his cronies pay for their children to be educated outside the state system? Because he has 'failed, failed, failed,' on his 1997 victory speech pledge 'education, education, education.'

  17. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU

    The oft-reported demise of whom, as that of the novel, is a bit premature.

    That was written by an intellectual egghead named Henry Fowler, in 1926. A few years prior, H.L. Mencken, on the other side of the puddle, noted...

    When one is Donne braying boastfully about helping to despatch this much maligned word, one may re-issue Papa Hemingway's novel, with an updated title:

    For who the bell tolls.

    That rolls off the tongue like cold molasses. Then again, it's
    not apt to offend the dorks who wouldn't know the difference.

  18. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    My impression is that what we are seeing, and remarking on, is caused by a combination of factors: the ongoing evolution of English over many centuries, a significant increase from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century in the number of people effectively taught to use English, and a rapid decline in that teaching over the past 30-40 years.

    We discussed a Sunday Times feature on the latter phenomenon a few weeks ago in The writing's on the wall.
  19. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo moderator

    American English
    I think another reason that we have the impression that there is a "decline" in the language in general is that the rules that we learned in grammar school went and changed on us. Whom is now optional, only half of the people know from posessive apostrophes, and...
    I mean, didn't "dork" used to be a curse word that meant "penis"? Who changed it to mean "oaf" or "fool"? What's wrong with the world today? ;)
  20. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    Not many people I know talk about bells tolling. Most people I know say things like "Who you wanna talk to?", "Who you going with?" and "You're marrying who!?"

    I think most Americans are in that scruffy category. We're not a people who derives its identity from language. We're not English we talk it. And we talk it they way we wanna talk it.

    Kids start saying diss and pundits start repeating it no time. As a matter of fact, the kids have to keep churning out new slang all the time because the adults keep biting it. "Lousy" used to be slang and rather vulgar. I know people who still object to it's use. Today, you can hear Senators say "that was a lousy decision" on TV.

    We're the culture that says "Say it ain't so, Joe.", "Where you at?", and "Got Milk?"

    Do we have the Canadians saying "You ain't seen nothin' yet" and the Brits saying they "Can't Get No Satisfaction" ??? Maybe. I think that's a good thing. I'm glad that what's driving the public use of the language these days, at least here, is the people who work for a living rather than mental midgets like Robert Lowth et al.
  21. Mariaguadalupe

    Mariaguadalupe Senior Member

    Mexico, Spanish-English
    I know for a fact that the way I was taught English grammar at a private Catholic school in the States during the '70s is very different from the way students at the same school are being taught right now. I think today's students are losing out on education.

    In México, our SEP is trying to make ammends on drastic choices made during the 60s, 70s and 80s. Steps have been taken up to university level, but the wrong has been done and many of the people who currently hold teaching positions are the students of education reform of those years previously stated. Let's hope everything turns out for the best.
  22. rsweet

    rsweet Senior Member

    English, North America
    I think Residente Calle has hit upon two things that are really key here: 1) The speech of young people--not classical literature or established grammar rules--is driving the evolution of language. 2) Marketing is driving everything.
  23. jimreilly

    jimreilly Senior Member

    American English
  24. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Do they read, when they are done talking, and energizing the language? Ask not for who the bell rings...
    Don't ask who the damn bell rings for, it's callin you. We be done now? You don't need to persuade me that language grows from the bottom up. Still, I'm not ready to throw out literature as an inspiration and a source for those who want to nurture their brains with something beyond what's on offer on the streets.

    Part of what's so strong about For Whom The Bell Tolls is that the writer had an incredible ear for street talk. He also learned to write by reading! That book title was no accident.
    It assumed that readers would catch the reference.
  25. Mariaguadalupe

    Mariaguadalupe Senior Member

    Mexico, Spanish-English
    It is a sad truth that we have become too complaisant about our speech, be it English, Spanish, and from what I've read here, any other language.

    Instead of achieving greatness as a race through the betterment of language, we have limited ourselves to follow, adapt and hinder the evolution of formal speech. We must remember that language is what binds society together.

    If you need an example, just look at how many of us have expressed our opinions and we have been understood by all. Had we been using substandard language, some of us would have been understood and others would have been utterly ignored. Following the rules, albeit some if not all, is what allows that the differences in AE and BE, or for that matter Spanish as it is spoken in Spain, or in the Americas, can be surpassed and communication be achieved.
  26. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    Hi Cuchu, here is my response to some of your points.

  27. Mariaguadalupe

    Mariaguadalupe Senior Member

    Mexico, Spanish-English
    Don't knock reading out yet. The world would be very different if everyone read a little bit more.
  28. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    But if we ALL had been using substandard language we would have ALL understood. So in that sense, it doesn't matter how we talk as long as we all talk the same? I think that's logical. But I think it's more important that we are all able to communicate sometimes. We can do that without speaking only in a way that everybody can understand.

    Who cares if somebody speaks substandard, say Appalachian, English at home as long as he can speak standard English with those who do?
  29. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    I don't think I'm strong enough to knock out reading if I wanted to. I think reading is a good thing but I think it can sometimes be bad (just like everything else in life). While some illiterate societies have done some bad things very literate societies have done very terrible things. I don't want to get into details. It's no panacea.
  30. Mariaguadalupe

    Mariaguadalupe Senior Member

    Mexico, Spanish-English
    Who cares if somebody speaks substandard, say Appalachian, English at home as long as he can speak standard English with those who do?[/quote]

    See? We must all learn at some point in our lives to conform to society in order to be part of it. Otherwise, we will always be on the sidelines.

    I still think you have a very interesting way of presenting your views. It tells me that you've read a book once in a while.;)
  31. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Street talk is a great source of innovation and vitality.
    The energy of invented and redefined words is beyond doubt.
    That's some of the good news.

    There is other news about street talk.

    It usually employs a miniscule vocabulary. It allows for clear, simple communication, but not much nuance. It often, due to the lack of vocabulary, lacks precision.

    You read books as technical manuals to help you understand how languages work, and how they have, and are likely to, develop. I read a Chilton's manual to work on my car. This sort of reading is interesting and useful. It will not help me appreciate the aethetics of a language, just the moving parts and how they fit together or don't.

    I like to enjoy language in more than just utilitarian ways, so I find pleasure in listening to street talk, and savoring the art and craft of writers who use language as a fine instrument.

    It's not about being at ease with dorks and eggheads...I'm comfortable with both, and --were it not for my reading 'vice'-- I'd probably be tagged as a dork. Language is about communication. The street version, by itself, is about limited communication with a limited range of conversationalists. Call me greedy; I won't settle for those limitations.
  32. Residente Calle 13 Senior Member

    New York City
    To me, it's a matter of social justice. I don't think any accent or any dialect of English is inherently better than another. I've heard some really dumb things said in "Standard" English and some really brilliant things said in "Substandard" English.

    But if "Standard English" is gonna get you out the ghetto, then learn it. Ain't notin' but a language. I learned programming languages in order to get out. Didn't have a jump shot. Oh well. We all do what we can.

    But I admit I have a problem with calling a dialect "substandard". Who decides what's sub? The way the middle class speaks seems to be the "right way" and they way the poor and racial minorities speak seems to be the "wrong way." I don't agree with that assesment.
  33. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Except for the aside about
    social justice, we fully agree. No language form is inherently 'better' than another, but some open more doors than others.

    I don't know to who(m) you are directing that straw man comment about 'substandard'. I didn't use it, don't agree with it, and don't recall seeing it used in this conversation.
    But I'll be happy to join you in knocking it down. Dialects are not better and worse, they're just plain different.
  34. Mariaguadalupe

    Mariaguadalupe Senior Member

    Mexico, Spanish-English

    Hats off to you!:D
  35. zebedee

    zebedee Senior Member

    Valencia - Spain
    Gt. Britain - English
    I think there are two issues under discussion here.

    The first issue is the timeless lament over how modern education (or lack of the same) is teaching young people less grammar than was taugnt to their elders, resulting in the use of said language going to the dogs. I say this is a timeless lament because it's not limited to the English language nor to the here and now. You can go back in history and find Ancient Roman grammarians lamenting the same of Latin.

    The second issue is what The Wickerman expounds in his original post:
    In other words, when comparing English to other European languages English is a language that's a lot less formal in grammatical structure even when used correctly. The mixed origins of English make it impossible to compare it directly with other European languages which still decline their verbs and nouns. So its evolution is bound to be different from theirs.

    A simple example: the word "put". It's present, past, past participle, imperative, indicative & subjunctive forms of the verb. What other European language can boast the same?

    And here's where I'd like to introduce a new slant on the matter.

    English's apparent simplicity is actually what makes it one of the most difficult languages to master at an advanced level. Ever looked up "get" in a dictionary and seen how many pages are dedicated to just one word? Learners of English find it deceptively easy to master the verb forms at a basic level but as they go deeper into the language they find added levels of wordplay and imagery that are just not feasible in a more structured language.
    "Eats shoots and leaves". John Wayne or a panda?
    "Wet paint - that's an order."
    are just 2 examples I can think of off the top of my head. And let's not even go into the mind-stretching world of phrasal verbs.

    Decay? It all depends on the prism through which you look at the language. Yes, "whom" will probably go the same way as "wherefore", it's only natural but I don't view English grammar's destructurization when compared to Romance or Germanic languages as decay but rather as evolution and enrichment.
  36. Magmod

    Magmod Banned

    England English
    :arrow: Grammar is man-made. How come that all verbs in French and Spanish have only 4 endings -ar, -ir, -oir etc. The imperfect tense is simple whether in English or most languages because it came late in the day in language development and the grammar rules were man-made simple.

    Therefore the idea of simplicity is there except no one knows how to do it. Only foreigners know how. Nowadays Indians and Pakistanis who work in Saudi Arabia do not differentiate between masculine and feminine Arabic genders and the Arabs start speaking to them without differentiating the genders! England had many European invaders since the Romans and this had simplified English and made it the best language on earth.

    :idea: If grammar is not serving a purpose, then to hell with it. Why should the moon have feminine gender? Some will say due to Greek mythology. But why should grammar become complicated?

    :arrow: It is the job of the new generations to simplify the language and its grammar to what is necessary and logical. I'm certain that the European Union will soon adopt a new language for all, probably based on the English grammar. Like many have said on this thread foreigners evolved English and its grammar. So it is OK for the rest of the Europeans. They can now have back what they gave the English. It is easy for the human brain to develop a new language.

    :arrow: There is nothing that is said in any language on this earth that cannot be expressed exactly in English. This shows the strength of English and its grammar :thumbsup:
  37. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    All languages have mixed origins to some extent, though. I think there's some tendency to overstate the originality of English in that respect.
  38. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    I like your panegyric to simplicity, but you may have overextended here. I haven't yet learned all the languages on this earth well enough to judge the exactitude with which they can be translated to English.

    In other words, I think this statement is arrogant and wrong.
    Try translating saudade from Português to English in less than a paragraph. Then use it in a short sentence, as it's often used in PT speech and songs!

    Carefully watch the crestfallen looks on the faces of your listeners, as they edge towards the exit doors.

    Your main points are good, but pushing things to extremes for the sake of argument doesn't work very well.:D

    PS- There is an intriguing logical anomaly in the statement I'm shooting at: If anything in any language can be "expressed exactly in English", then there is an implication of bi-directionality. This would tell us that there is no need for languages to borrow from one another. Gargling with hemlock.....
  39. Pivra Senior Member

    this is why i love english ^^.....
  40. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    I never thought, before I started learning Italian, that I would ever love learning language (English too)

    I am English, born and grew up here, ask me a year ago about descriptive adjectives, and the rules in verb conjugation and to explain the pluperfect tense, the absolute superlative forms of adjectives and I wouldnt've been able to say a thing.

    Yes it was second nature, but I forgot the rules, I didn't use grammar at all, it was such a shock when I was getting moaned at on these boards about my language, because I always thought it was better than most peoples, I NEVER used an apostrophe, for about 5/6 years, seriously.

    English is dumbing down, whether you want to admit it or not, I can still see people fighting the corner for English and it's reasons but IMHO it's someone who doesn't want to admit it, who will have an opposite view to mine.

    The arrogance of people in English speaking countries about "Everyone learn English, and we'll never learn another language, there is no point" is why, I believe, that language is failing because they haven't looked at how fundamental, propper use of language is.

    That's my two pence :D
  41. Magmod

    Magmod Banned

    England English
    :arrow: According to the WR dictionary saudade = nostalgia. If due to its usage there is a necessity to borrow saudade into English, then it will be incorporated in the next issue of the Oxford Dictionary :D

    :idea: There is no human idea that can’t be incorporated exactly, one way or another into English. This includes saudade. This is because English is the newest of the European languages and most advanced in its grammar and form.

    :arrow: How long will it take for the German, French, and Spanish etc. to get rid officially of their illogical grammar and complicated structures? This defines the period of how far these languages are behind English. People’s resistance to change is unimaginable :mad:

    Complexity in grammar is like foam in a river. It is produced by obstacles, which break the smoothly flowing current ;)

  42. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Hi Magmod,
    There is a borrowing from French that fits your point labelled with the green arrow. Naïveté

    Many dictionaries give short and direct translations. And, they are wrong. The word in question means something rather different. The brief EN translations miss most of the nuance. The translations are not exact.

    Your optimism that EN can express any and all ideas, from whaterver language, may, in fact, be correct. Maybe not.
    I can only go by the languages I know. In any event, the relative newness of EN is an illogical explanation for the claim you make. Spanglish is newer, as is Portuñol. Thus, by your reasoning, they are more apt to accommodate any and all ideas, regardless of source language.

    What yardstick did you apply before coming up with this bit of arrogance? " how far these languages are behind English
  43. nycphotography

    nycphotography Senior Member

    I do be learnin stuff
    John-Paul Miller, NYC
    At the time when it was written, wasn't Shakespeare considered rather racy, somewhat slangy, and not all that proper?

    One thing I have determined from seeing the questions asked in the English Only forum is that, while English has been streadily simplifying over time grammatically, it has also been building layer on layer of subtle nuance of meaning depending on the tone, the word sequences, and the subtle meanings of words in combination and in context.

    Maybe Humpty Dumpty should be the poster child for the new English language??
  44. TimeHP

    TimeHP Senior Member

    Italian - Italy

    What you say it's true for all the languages I know and it shows nothing. :)
    If I'm not wrong in English doesn't exist a real future tense, does it? You had to create it by adding a modal verb...

    Well, never, I hope.
    English grammar is complicated as well. (Don't forget you have sentences like this:
    John's wife had been taught to behave in such a way that her parents would have as quiet a life as possible...)
    And sometimes rules of English grammar are more strict than those of other languages. In Italian we can omit the subject of the sentence, we can change the structure of the clause, we don't need to change the structure of the sentence if we ask a question...

    Grammar rules help us to be more accurate and clear and to develop the ability to reason in an abstract way.

  45. Fernando Senior Member

    Spain, Spanish
    I agree with TimeHP. No "Western" language is more difficult than English. For students from abroad, there are so many rules that our impression is that there are no rules at all. We have to learn all in a one-by-one basis.

    Meanwhile, English have two or three inflexible, dictatorial laws that seems like a corset for Romanic language speakers: the adjective always goes before the name and the subject with the verb. Anyway we would like a few more rules. Learning English is a pain in the ****.

    Said this, if it fits so many people I assume it has some advantages. Certainly it is true that you can express almost all in English ,which is very confortable to us and its word economy is fantastic (except when achieved by phrasal verbs).
  46. Magmod

    Magmod Banned

    England English
    :arrow: English developed from Latin, Greek, French, German etc and got rid of 500 pages of illogical verb conjugations, 5,000 pages of stupid noun genders and probably 50,000 pages of grammar rules, if you were to consider every grammar case. Will that not make it superior to lesser developed languages? Eventhough English is new and made all these basic simplifications, there is no human thought that can’t be expressed precisely in English. It is not a case of being naïve as cuchuflete said :eek:

    :arrow: If a grammarian were to try to explain every case of the use of say "se" in Spanish and to avoid all its ambiguities, he will need at least 10 chapters. He will also need a chapter to explain the difference in meaning of putting an adjective before or after a noun plus learning all their “****” illogical conjugations :mad:

    :idea: For the world domination of English one has to especially thank the Americans who again came to the rescue of English and made further simplifications.


    Complexity in grammar is like foam in a river. It is produced by obstacles, which break the smoothly flowing current ;)
  47. Fernando Senior Member

    Spain, Spanish
    Magmod, since I assume you are an English speaker I understand how you can think English is a "logical" (!!!!!!!!) language. Believe me if I say that no language is further from logic than English.

    There is one motivation for English to be the present dominant language: the hegemony of UK in, say, 1850-1950 and US in 1950 to the present. It is OK to me, English is fair enough to me to communicate, but please, do not dare to say that English is "logic" or "more developed".
  48. TimeHP

    TimeHP Senior Member

    Italian - Italy
    I admit you're good at telling jokes.
    I didn't know we were talking nonsense. :D
    If so you could like this link:
  49. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    People are confusing a lot of things in this thread, Magmod most of all, and it's really quite frustrating.

    Grammar consists of a lot more than just morphology. Just because English has no genders, no adjectival agreements, and very few conjugations does not mean it doesn't have much grammar, or has simple grammar. When English ceased making the distinction between subject and object case, for example, it acquired a whole set of rules about word order. Other languages can put the object before the verb and the subject after if they want. English can't. (Except after 'hardly', 'rarely', 'seldom', etc., where inversion is required.) Where's the simplicity in that?

    Languages are a bit like balloons: you squeeze in one place and they bulge elsewhere. English expresses through syntax and word order what lots of languages express through word endings, just as it expresses tenses through modals instead of through conjugations. Magmod might claim that modals are simpler than verb conjugations, but that's because he's English and the linguistic patterns that his brain learnt as a child have an easy time with modals and a hard time with conjugations. Our native language defines how we understand all languages. Speakers of other languages have a hard time with modals, and rightly so: they're a mess! If 'will' is supposed to be a marker of the future, why do we say things like 'Boys will be boys', which is a comment on the eternal nature of masculinity? If the future is supposed to be formed using 'will', how come 'I'm going to see a film tonight', 'I'm seeing a film tonight', 'tonight's film starts at 8 o'clock' and 'Eastwood is to make another film about boxing' are all forms of the future?! That's five ways to form the future. Where's the simplicity in that?

    And to claim that English can express any idea in perfect clarity (with the implication that other languages can't) is pitifully naive and horrendously arrogant. Every now and then someone asks in the French forum how to translate 'fuite en avant'. The thread usually spawns a few dozen posts with great suggestions that are mostly inadequate. Yes, it's possible to work around these problems and eventually get one's point across, but what makes you think that's not true of other languages?

    And, since you address English as a whole, why do you fail to recognise that English has one of the most challenging (ie irregular) systems of pronunciation? You seem not to have counted the thousands of 'stupid pages' of phonetic rules that exist for English where other languages can be summarised in a dozen.

    Rant about Magmod aside, I still take issue with the notion of 'decline' in English grammar, which is such a loaded word. The language has changed because it's alive, as much for the good as for the bad, but it's harder to be aware of what's new that of what's disappeared. Did you know, for example, that passive forms of continuous tenses (eg 'a meeting is being held tonight...') are a nineteenth-century invention? So the number of tenses has actually increased over the years.

    Another criticism I have is that 'decline' suggests there was a golden age of English grammar which has been lost, but such an age simply didn't exist. Some might say Shakespeare's English is a golden age, but people didn't speak like Shakespeare, even in the sixteenth century. At that time spelling was random (and therefore confusing), and grammatical rules such as forbidding double negatives had not yet been established, and all that led to a lot of confusion. That is after all why characters such as Lowth and Murray decided to 'clean up' the language with all their pedantic rules. But even in the nineteenth century, when these rules were taught, people didn't follow them. Certainly those who went to grammar schools did, but that was only a small minority. The language surviving from that period is overwhelmingly 'standard' because the published word was dominated by a small minority, while the vast majority of English speakers had no outlet for their language, many not being able to write and most not being publishable. These days anyone can write and be published, as this forum proves. Speakers of non-standard English have a voice that they never had in the past, and we're finding that we make mistakes and follow deviant, non-standard patterns of grammar.

    In the end, though, can't we just be happy that we have so many choices at our disposal. 'Whom' hasn't really been replaced by 'who'. It still exists in the language. But if in the past it had a grammatical role (marking the object case) these days it has a stylistic role. We can choose whether to say 'Who did you buy that book for?' or 'For whom the bell tolls' depending on what we want to express. Aren't such possibilities a bonus? If 'whom' was obligatory in all object cases, 'For whom the bell tolls' wouldn't sound nearly as awe-inspiring.
  50. jimreilly

    jimreilly Senior Member

    American English
    Well said, Aupick, and the variety available to us is a great treasure, altough sometimes as confusing as one of those giant supermarkets with too many choices! And it is a struggle for my friends who are learning English to deal with pronunciation, modals, and quite a few other things....

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