Decline of English Grammar

cuchuflete

Senior Member
EEUU-inglés
Bravo Aupick! You have debunked more than a few false premises and conclusions free of logic.

I just enjoyed a short tract by Henry Fowler, in which he adeptly skewered the enemies of the split infinitive. He praised--or was he condemning?--American preservation of grammatical forms which had, in the early twentieth century, become obsolete in BE. Was this saudade? I doubt it.
Nor was it nostalgia, which is a rather different matter.
 
  • felicia

    Senior Member
    Norwegian, Norway
    jimreilly said:
    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.
    We Norwegians get something of a shock when we discover that verbs which are simply conjugated in Norsk like jeg er, du er, han er, etc. (I am, you are, etc) have to be conjugated in first, second and third persons, both singular and plural, in most of the European languages. But we learn...!
     

    felicia

    Senior Member
    Norwegian, Norway
    Magmod said:
    Hi
    :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.

    Regards
    :)

    Complexity in grammar is like foam in a river. It is produced by obstacles, which break the smoothly flowing current ;)
    Oh dear, oh DEAR!!! "To the rescue...!!!? And (some of) the English deplore the use of Americanisms in British English that seem (according to them) to foul up the language! Aand here we are not talking of grammar.The infiltration of American English into British English started with the onset of US films, and some of todays underthirty British don't even know what is British-or American English!. Brits write "honour, colour, night" but I have seen Britishers write "honor, color, nite"...in the belief that this is British English. But regarding the history of the American English it's a wonder that the English language survived at all. I'm thinking of all the foreign tongues that immigrants from all over the world brought with them,including my countrymen, and made the American language what it is today. In Norway we are taught both British and American English, and both languages are regarded as equal.
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    imithe
    Magmod said:
    There is nothing that is said in any language on this earth that cannot be expressed exactly in English
    Oh come on!
    Isn't that a rather arrogant statement for an English-speaker to make?

    Can the nuances of double-meanings in other languages be expressed in English? Can a German pun be translated… or a French crossword clue… or an Irish allegorical poem?
     

    comsci

    Senior Member
    Mandarin, Taiwan(Yankees 40 Wang)
    I second Maxi and those who hold the same idea. If you happen to know any other languages(put aside Western ones for a moment), and I DO wish, you would know that it's nearly impossible(if ever) to translate(maybe to transliterate) or express EXACTLY the words of say Confucius or any other figures that you guys are not that accustomed to. So please or at least try not to be SO arrogant or cocky or should I say competent in your speech when you're diving for the extreme or the impeccable absolute, which I doubt if any. By doing this, you're also paying tribute and respect for other cultures that may have survived much longer than the existence of the English language itself.
     

    Residente Calle 13

    Senior Member
    New York City
    la reine victoria said:
    Isn't it shocking, Residente? It's up to us to see that high standards are maintained, otherwise the whole world is doomed.

    LET OUR GRAMMAR NOT DECLINE!


    LRV
    Yes! It's quite shocking! The sky is most definitely falling! In a few years, we shall all become deaf and mute! The end of all language on Earth! Oh my!
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Sorry to interrupt, but working from the original (ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee),
    ... the alternative to:
    For whom the bell tolls,
    ... wouldn't be:
    For who the bell tolls,
    ... but:
    Who's that bell ringing for.

    Here is the complete version.
    Who's that bell ringing for?
    Don't ask.
    It's you!!
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    imithe
    panjandrum said:
    Sorry to interrupt, but working from the original (ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee),
    I think the correct expression is "Homer nods" :)

    "and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
     

    Magmod

    Banned
    England English
    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?
    Hi Aupick
    These are some of the simplifications that make English a great language, and in my objective way of thinking superior to others.
    One accent in Spanish and the whole Spanish speakers are in disarray and that is a simplification on the numerous French accents
    You mentioned some adverbs and I like to give a simple example on the strength of English with adverbs:
    :arrow: I gave this advice to you.
    Only I gave this advice to you.
    I only gave this advice to you.
    I gave only this advice to you.
    I gave this only advice to you.
    I gave this advice only to you.
    I gave this advice to only you.
    I gave this advice to you only.
    :idea: Thus only emphasised the word after it with such simplicity and gave different shades of meaning to a simple sentence.

    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! ?
    English has pricked your balloon with a big bang :D
    My mother tongue is not English, but I am objective :eek: I was brought up with silly grammar rules, conjugations, such rules that will make you go mad etc. My mother tongue is a major world language spoken by over 200 million people in over 20 countries i.e. not like Spangish spoken by a few as a mother tongue in some corner near Mexico.
    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? ?
    Boys will be boys = juvenile behaviour must be tolerated. It is not a comment on bla bla bla :eek:
    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? ?
    Your supposition about will is only partially correct.
    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
    With its massive simplication in grammar, there is no human thought that can't be expressed in English.
    '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? ?
    With that big bang to your balloon, English has got rid of 50,000 pages of stupid grammar rules.
    If I assume that you are French, please tell me why can’t your language find a word for eighty or ninety :D

    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 ?
    Pronunciation is not part of grammar rules. The Americans have simplified pronunciation :thumbsup:

    Regards
    ;)
     

    Korena

    Senior Member
    USA : English
    I also think that English grammar is becoming more simplified over the years, but that doesn't mean it's a simple language to learn! I've had many people tell me that English is actually a very confusing and difficult language!

    -Korena
     

    Aupick

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Magmod said:
    You mentioned some adverbs and I like to give a simple example on the strength of English with adverbs:
    :arrow: I gave this advice to you.
    Only I gave this advice to you.
    I only gave this advice to you.
    I gave only this advice to you.
    I gave this only advice to you.
    I gave this advice only to you.
    I gave this advice to only you.
    I gave this advice to you only.
    :idea: Thus only emphasised the word after it with such simplicity and gave different shades of meaning to a simple sentence.


    I like your diagram of the adverb only. It's pretty and tidy, and the orange diagonal is very dynamic, but I hope you don't think this is how only functions in normal English. You would be doing a big disservice to any learners of English you handed this to. I'm not sure I can explain the rules governing the placement of only myself, and there wouldn't be space here if I could, so please bear with me as I try to use your example to show that English grammar -- in this case and generally -- is a lot more complicated than you seem to imagine.

    Problem 1: You say that only “emphasises the word after it” (“with such simplicity”), yet in the last sentence you give, there is no word after it. The sentence is valid, so what does only qualify? :confused: It sounds like there are exceptions to your rule that you need to justify.

    Problem 2: In the third to last sentence, only is followed by "to". Do you really believe it qualifies "to"? In other words, do you understand the sentence to mean "I didn't give this advice from you or with you or under you, but only to you"? I don't, and I suspect I'm not alone. To me, only qualifies you, which comes two words later.

    Funnily enough, in the last sentence only also qualifies you even though it comes before it. In fact only qualifies you in all of the last three sentences. But the only one in which only precedes you, thereby following your rule, is a sentence that I wouldn't say myself because it sounds ungrammatical. I think you need to add a few pages back into your English grammar to explain all these exceptions.

    Problem 3: One of the sentences you wrote is incorrect ("...this only advice..."). Why? It follows your rule perfectly, but there are other rules, no doubt included in those 50,000 pages you’ve thrown out, that prevent you from saying this. And at that point how do you emphasise “advice”?

    Problem 4: Sentence 2, “I only gave this advice to you”, can mean exactly the same as any one of the other sentences except the first. This is what the majority of English speakers would say, and many would write, whatever they want to qualify with only. In fact it’s unlikely that only would ever qualify “gave”, as your rule would state. So how do we know what only is referring to? In spoken English we use intonation to direct only to its target, saying either “I only gave this advice to you” or “I only gave this advice to you” or whatever else, according what we want to say -- which goes to show that, despite your claims to the contrary, pronunciation is sometimes part of grammar rules. Intonation is even enough to change only’s part of speech: in the first sentence we would presumably raise our voices when pronouncing the following I (“Only I gave this advice to you”). If you don’t raise your voice when pronouncing the I, only becomes a conjunction and the sentence comes to mean “Except that I gave you this advice to you”, “It’s just that I gave this advice to you” (along the lines of “I would have a coffee with you, only I’m running late today”). This time, we’re squeezing the word order part of the balloon, and the intonation end of it bulges.

    It’s not that your rule is wrong and should be discarded. There’s a lot of truth to it, but a lot of exceptions too, and describing these would require several pages. When it comes down to it, there are two systems for determining the meaning of only in a sentence (word order and intonation), each with its set of rules and exceptions. Having two systems is definitely not simple. And all this is just for the one adverb only. It’s pretty clear that other adverbs have their rules, too, as the different behaviour of the near synonyms also, too, and as well shows. The following are valid positions for each of them. Borderline cases are in parentheses:

    Also, I gave this advice to you. > also refers to the whole sentence
    I also gave this advice to you. > also refers to I or to this advice or to you
    I gave this advice also to you. > also refers to this advice or to you
    I gave this advice to you also. > also refers to you

    I,too, gave this advice to you. > too refers to I
    (I gave this advice, too, to you.) > too refers to this advice
    I gave this advice to you too. > too refers to you

    (I gave this advice as well to you.) > as well refers to this advice
    I gave this advice to you as well. > as well refers to I or this advice or you

    What are the rules that you infer from these patterns? Why can also appear in four different positions in the sentence, too in two and a half positions, and as well in one and a half? Why is the referent of also ambiguous in two cases but not all four? Why is the referent of as well ambiguous? Why, in contrast, is the referent of too perfectly clear? Why is also followed by a comma in the first example but not in the other? Why is too surrounded by commas in the first two cases but not the third? Why are there no commas around as well? And what intonation patterns would you use to pronounce each sentence?

    I hate to be this boring, but demonstrating that grammar is finicky and complicated is a little more tedious that “demonstrating” that it’s simple.
     

    Aupick

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Magmod said:
    Your supposition about will is only partially correct.
    That was my point entirely. :thumbsup:

    Will has many more functions than simply indicating the future, and each one requires pages and pages to describe fully. Here are just a few examples:
    - I will buy a new car next year. > will = future
    - Boys will be boys. > will = eternal characteristic
    - Their plane will be landing right now > will = supposition
    - Will you marry me? > will = want, be willing
    Magmod said:
    If I assume that you are French, please tell me why can't your language find a word for eighty or ninety :D
    Don’t worry, I’m not going to defend French numbers. :p Suffice it to say that French people have no more difficulty at maths than people from anywhere else. (I’m not French, as the top right corner of this post shows.)

    Basically, what you say about English (“there is no human thought that can't be expressed in English”) is applicable to all languages. I don’t know why you assume that other languages are incapable of the same “human thoughts”. Each language has different ways of expressing things and in the end they’re as good as each other, although we might have individual preferences because of our native language, because of our background, and because our brains work differently. What seems simple to one person might be massively complicated to someone from another culture. I find Polish incredibly difficult because so much is expressed by word endings, which I’m not used to, but my extended family includes several people from Poland who, despite living in the US for a couple of decades, cannot master English articles, because there are no articles in Polish. Polish is a lot simpler for them because of this. But not for me. But nor do I claim that English is simpler or better than Polish just because it's easier for me. Trying to teach or explain English to other people has taught me that much.
    Magmod said:
    Pronunciation is not part of grammar rules. The Americans have simplified pronunciation :thumbsup:
    Er... I’ll look forward to your demonstration of this in another thread.
     

    Markus

    Senior Member
    Canada - English
    Magmod said:
    These are some of the simplifications that make English a great language, and in my objective way of thinking superior to others.
    Is it really possible to declare oneself objective? Anyway, I totally disagree with your conclusions, but that's my subjective point of view. ;)
     

    maxiogee

    Banned
    imithe
    Markus said:
    Is it really possible to declare oneself objective?
    ;)
    Good Question!!
    A local newspaper in a part of Northern Ireland is called "The Impartial Reporter", and has been for over 200 years.
    You may be assured that its impartiality was, for many years, more imagined than actual.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    magmod said:
    One accent in Spanish and the whole Spanish speakers are in disarray
    The writer of this claim needs a few pages of grammar to explain it, linguistically. It is a false statement, but that is a matter of logic, rather than grammar.
     

    fenixpollo

    moderator
    American English
    Magmod said:
    My mother tongue is not English, but I am objective.
    If your mother tongue is not English, why do you show English as your native language at the top of your posts?
    Magmod said:
    I was brought up with silly grammar rules, conjugations, such rules that will make you go mad etc.My mother tongue is a major world language spoken by over 200 million people in over 20 countries i.e. not like Spangish spoken by a few as a mother tongue in some corner near Mexico.
    It sounds like you are confusing "lack of conjugation charts" for "simplicity". English makes up for its lack of conjugation complexity with lots of other "silly grammar rules".


    Who are you trying to insult with that crack about Spanglish being spoken "in some corner near Mexico"?

    I'm not trying to gang up on you, but elitism tends to elicit a strong response:
    Magmod said:
    ... that make English a great language, and in my objective way of thinking superior to others.
     
    Originally Posted by Magmod
    ... that make English a great language, and in my objective way of thinking superior to others

    Yes. I agree with Fenixpollo. What makes you think that English is superior to other languages? Which language would you consider to be the most inferior in the world?

    Any language is precious to its native speakers. Language is the channel by which we communicate. The reason for English being so widely spoken goes back to the days of Empire and Colonialism. That doesn't make it a superior language.


    LRV
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    fenixpollo said:
    If your mother tongue is not English, why do you show English as your native language at the top of your posts?
    I think some forum users write down the language they're learning in their profile.

    P.S. Or perhaps, in this case, the language they use the most often in their everyday life.
     

    Magmod

    Banned
    England English
    Is it really possible to declare oneself objective? Anyway, I totally disagree with your conclusions, but that's my subjective point of view.
    If you think objectively i.e. without your subjective point of view, what language is superior to others? :confused:
    You are objective if you have a scientific mind. The happy man is the man who lives objectively, who has free affections and wide interests.

    It had been a shock that:
    (a) The earth revolves round the sun and the whole universe does not revolve round our infinitely insignificant planet.
    (b) Every one of us 100,000 years ago had a chimpanzee ancestor in Africa
    (c) English is best…The list is infinite.

    :idea: Only the scientific objective brain uncovered the truth
    :arrow: Admit to yourself every day at least one painful truth. If that is difficult, as is the case with those people who disagree with me, then let us know what is the next superior language after say your mother tongue? Please don’t declare that crab that there is no such thing as one language better than another :warn: :D

    :arrow: Without comparing your mother tongue with English, what conclusions do you disagree with? :confused:

    Regards
    :)
     

    Fernando

    Senior Member
    Spain, Spanish
    Scientific fact: You have derailed this thread.

    Anyway, you are right. English have been flexible enough to adapt words from other languages (specially, French). OBVIOUS and CHAUVINISM are good examples.
     

    Magmod

    Banned
    England English
    la reine victoria said:
    What makes you think that English is superior to other languages?
    Hi Your Majesty
    :arrow: Not long ago, people in Rome used to think their precious city was the centre of the earth :thumbsdown:
    If only they admitted to themselves one painful truth by thinking objectively.
    Regards
    :)
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Whether or not English grammar has improved or declined, logic seems to follow old rules: Making an assertion, and then repeating it over and over again, does not constitute proof of anything but stubbornness.

    If someone has knowledge of a few languages, and knows little or nothing about thousands of others, and makes sweeping assertions about the superiority of one over all others, that is "proof" that the proximity of the chimp in some lineages is greater than in others.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Magmod said:
    :arrow: Not along ago, people in Rome used to think their precious city was the centre of the earth :thumbsdown:
    If only they admitted to themselves one painful truth by thinking objectively.
    So it was London all along, instead? :p ;)
     

    GenJen54

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    Hmmm....

    Objective = Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices.

    Subjective = The best.

    "English is the best language" is NOT an OBJECTIVE statement.

    Please hang up and try your call again.
     

    Fernando

    Senior Member
    Spain, Spanish
    Am I the only one that thinks that this (well-aimed) thread have derailed?

    Could any mod open the following threads:

    - Is English the best language? It is a legitimate discussion.
    - Is Magmodcity the center of the world? :) (Kidding, no offense intended)
     

    Magmod

    Banned
    England English
    GenJen54 said:
    Hmmm....

    Objective = Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices.

    Subjective = The best.

    "English is the best language" is NOT an OBJECTIVE statement.

    Please hang up and try your call again.
    Hi
    :arrow: You need a scientific mind to be objective. From the data available one makes an objective conclusion.

    :idea: For example, a famous scientist concluded that smoking is harmful

    Regards
    ;)
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Enough! Following Fernando's fine advice, any further posts that do not address the original thread topic will be deleted, even if offered with total and absolute objectivity.

    This is a Moderator notice.
    Thanks to all.
    Cuchuflete
     

    yojan

    Member
    English - England
    Like all languages, ever eixisted, they evolve. English in paricular, resulting from its globality due to the american and british influences, undergo constant evolution.

    The title ''Decline of English Grammar'' is therefore in my opinion innacurate. Language is not invented and is ever present as a major part of human culture. And grammar, is present only to CONTAIN this language instead of creating it.

    Grammar changes as language does in order to tell what is ''gramtically correct'' so that it can be used in literature, speaking etc.
     

    Residente Calle 13

    Senior Member
    New York City
    yojan said:
    Like all languages, ever eixisted, they evolve. English in paricular, resulting from its globality due to the american and british influences, undergo constant evolution.

    The title ''Decline of English Grammar'' is therefore in my opinion innacurate. Language is not invented and is ever present as a major part of human culture. And grammar, is present only to CONTAIN this language instead of creating it.

    Grammar changes as language does in order to tell what is ''gramtically correct'' so that it can be used in literature, speaking etc.
    It used to be that "My house is being painted." was considered horrible English. The correct version of that sentence was "My house is painting." which to English speakers today sounds like somebody who had a stroke said it. I forget the justification. It might be as retarded as the silly aversion to splitting infinitives or double negatives.

    But people said and wrote "My house is being painted." much to the horror and dismay of the purists who said English was...I think I just ran out of metaphors for "English Grammar is in decline."

    But if English Grammar is in decline, so be it. I can only wish it a quick and painless death. Better sooner than later. Why let this thing drag on forever?
     

    Dr. Fumbles

    Senior Member
    USA
    English - US
    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?
    Creole answers the whole change issue. i see way too many french grammatical elements to not say that english aint a creole. Aenglisc was English, it mixed with francien (french) and produce a pidgin, which then evolved into the creole known as middle english, then continued to evolve and solidify into modern english. Yes old english was in a state of simplification, but no where near the simplification of middle english.

    it's my beliefe that there was an unrecorded pidgin between old and middle english:

    • Prolonged, regular contact between the different language communities (french takin over england)
    • A need to communicate between them (french soldiers marring english women)
    • An absence of (or absence of widespread proficiency in) a widespread, accessible interlanguage(children had to communicate somehow, think of how spanglish is, code switching or severly mixing both lnaguages)
    Then again, middle english could be that pidgin.
    At least thats how i look at it, draw your own conclusions.
     

    Dr. Fumbles

    Senior Member
    USA
    English - US
    We have a thread called "Is English a creole?". It's certainly not the mainstream view among Anglicists. See, for example, excellent posts on the issue here, here and here, all summarising the problmes surrounding the alleged "English, the creole".

    Groetjes,

    Frank

    Thanks i'll look into it.

    It's just, to me, it seems like a lot of things tell me that English is a creole, but i'm open to evidence saying otherwise but as for now, that's what the evidence shows me. I say at the very least, it's a mixed language.
     

    Δημήτρης

    Senior Member
    Cypriot Greek
    I didn't know that the whole "Our language is in decline" thing existed in other language communities (we have lots of people here saying stuff like "Finis Graeciae" when even the smallest language change goes mainstream).

    English inevitably changes, as all living languages do. That's actually something to be happy about. If no changes occur, it would mean that English is a dead language.
    English verbs and nouns might lost most of their inflectional endings but it seems to me that new ways to express the same thing as before were developed at the same time. I don't thing anything can go wrong when you leave the language evolve on it's own. There are some universal rules, limits that made an utterance non-sense if violated, and these rules are far more broad that prescriptive grammar rules.

    I am actually a bit envious of English. It generally accepts new words and syntax patterns more easily than Greek (the English speaking population is more diverse than Greek's, I think that's the main reason).
     

    Frank06

    Senior Member
    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    I wonder what languages don't have the "our language is in decline" thing!
    Language decline, which I do understand as "people complaining that language X declines" rather than a language actually "declining", is probably one generation younger than language itself.

    By the way, I always wondered what "decline" in this context could mean. And when a language manages to be in a "state of decline" for a few thousands of years, then I do think something else is going on :).

    Frank
     

    irinet

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    Wow! I am a non-native English speaker and I want to assure you that teaching English in my country has become serious in private rather than in public schools. Many people consider that they can learn English from the Internet (which has a bad influence on English nowadays). It's maybe the same with the English speakers. There is a tendency (esp. with the younger generation) to mix everything: text messaging with oral communication, industries blend: phones-Iphones, IPODS tunes (music industry), marketing, car industry, banking system, people communicate faster, not necessarily better. Under these circumstances, words and rules of using them are continuosly changing.

    I can see complaints about not learning enough grammar in schools. In my country, we have had too much of it (I mean Romanian grammar)! I don't agree to leave it aside, but I think that these generations need to understand the basics of present events occurring in any language, for instance, the presence of so many English words in my mother tongue. It's like living under a permanent 'linguistic' storm due to the birth and extremely fast growth of the new technologies in all domains. In my country, there is
    a gross difference in covering grammar of the 70's up to now. It was taught simpler. And English was taught better than now.
     

    Ironicus

    Senior Member
    English & Swahili - East Africa
    There are 3 components to any language: the sound system, the grammatical patterns, and the stock of words. For a language to exist and persist, these may be allowed to vary, but within limits. As soon as the variations start to interfere with meaning, we can say the language has deteriorated. This will be an objective statement, because it is now less fit for purpose than it used to be.
    The components of the language should be taught to everyone using it: you can't simply wish that everyone starting in first grade knows all he needs to know about it. So you need to teach the sound system, the grammar, and the vocabulary.
    Now, taking American English, we find a marked deterioration in the sound system over the last two decades or so. This came about because of the influence of CNN, at first, where they decided deliberately to use a Midwest accent to be comprehensible, as they thought, to the majority of Americans. The result is a marked decline particularly in the vowel sounds of AE.
    Also in AE, as has been noted, schools no longer teach grammar, so students are left to make it up as they go along, with predictably awful results. And imagine trying to teach a child who has absolutely no concept of grammar a foreign language!
    Vocabulary has suffered too. While we have many more nouns for concrete things - because we have many more concrete things - we have added only a handful of verbs, while dropping almost the whole class of adverbs and retaining only two adjectives - cool and gross. Or so it seems to a detached observer! And we have lost many abstract nouns, in parallel with the loss of the power of abstraction.
    If you think this is a harsh evaluation, just get yourself an old Hitchcock movie - without subtitles - and compare it with a modern piece of trash from Hollywood. You would be forgiven for thinking that Americans of 50 years ago did not speak AE.
    Language is much more than a tool of communication, and it communicates much more than can be put into pictures. It informs, controls, and directs thought. It is the one art form instantly available to everyone. It should be something we nurture and cherish and delight in, instead of something we want to reduce to the simplest sequence of grunts necessary to convey our desire to get an iPad and log on to Facebook.
    I think it can be demonstrated that the utter banality of American public discourse, where the clowns running for election would have been laughed off the platform a generation or two ago, is the result of the dumbing down of the American people and the American language. The only solution is to set up an academy to preserve (without pickling) the language, and appoint evangelists to go into all the schools to teach people how to speak, and therefore how to think, and how to conduct themselves in a civilized world. Perhaps there is still time!
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    In the US, they've stopped teaching grammar in public schools.
    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.
    My daughter, who is currently in high school, has often complained about not having been taught grammar in school. She has actually bought a couple of grammar books, and borrowed others from the library, so she could study the subject hrself.
     

    Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    My daughter, who is currently in high school, has often complained about not having been taught grammar in school. She has actually bought a couple of grammar books, and borrowed others from the library, so she could study the subject hrself.
    ^ a crying shame

    Grammar and punctuation are forms of heavy-duty glue for stringing our thoughts together (coherency + word significance) . It is very important, despite what you often here out of the mouths of "New Age" learning. Just imagine reading a text with with no grammar and punctuation rules applied?

    At university, you will be expected to have mastered English grammar, apart from a few loose ends (maybe not in a community college). High school teachers are truly doing their students a great disservice, I'm afraid, in not pushing grammar down their little throats.

    What are kids learning in high school and junior high these days? How to make posts on Facebook in the most creative of ways?
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    It used to be that "My house is being painted." was considered horrible English. The correct version of that sentence was "My house is painting." which to English speakers today sounds like somebody who had a stroke said it. I forget the justification. It might be as retarded as the silly aversion to splitting infinitives or double negatives.

    But people said and wrote "My house is being painted." much to the horror and dismay of the purists who said English was...I think I just ran out of metaphors for "English Grammar is in decline."

    But if English Grammar is in decline, so be it. I can only wish it a quick and painless death. Better sooner than later. Why let this thing drag on forever?
    Ich cannot really understand how anybody could understand the verb in "my house is painting" as passive tense. Is that something that has "survived" since the times when there was a "real" passive tense in English - I mean without having to use the auxiliary verb "to be"? In Icelandic which has a lot of similarity with OE, verbs have active and passive tenses. Even Danish, which has had its grammar simplified in a similar way as English has, includes a passive tense not always needing any auxiliary verb.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Language decline, which I do understand as "people complaining that language X declines" rather than a language actually "declining", is probably one generation younger than language itself.

    By the way, I always wondered what "decline" in this context could mean. And when a language manages to be in a "state of decline" for a few thousands of years, then I do think something else is going on :).

    Frank
    I'll give you a hint as to what it could mean: I could mean a decline in the ability to express complex matters in that language. I think that English has compensated a lot by adding more vocabulary. When you translate High German into Danish or English you'll discover that advantage. Something may be expressed in a way that exploits the possibilities that a complex grammar - and higher freedom to make compound words - offers you and it may still be easy to express exactly the same in English because you have a larger vocabulary. And in Danish? You often have to choose between making very odd phrases. Or try to spread the same info in several phrases (which again alters the style of the text). Or you have to throw some of the info in the source text overboard and try to maintain the style and the flow of the original.
     

    Ёж!

    Senior Member
    Русский
    Hi,
    Ich cannot really understand how anybody could understand the verb in "my house is painting" as passive tense.
    Why do you mean the passive tense here? In my view, this is pretty similar to the modern 'I closed the door' vs 'the door closed'. Not exactly the passive tense, rather the latter phrase points that there was some closing, and so we infer the rest (that somebody closed the door, or maybe that it closed by itself). Why not?
    I could mean a decline in the ability to express complex matters in that language.
    And simple matters as well. :)
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Hi,

    Why do you mean the passive tense here? In my view, this is pretty similar to the modern 'I closed the door' vs 'the door closed'. Not exactly the passive tense, rather the latter phrase points that there was some closing, and so we infer the rest (that somebody closed the door, or maybe that it closed by itself). Why not?

    And simple matters as well. :)
    Well, doors actually do seem to close by themselves - being moved by the wind or by mechanical devices. So "the door closed" surely is not passive. Not even visually. You actually see the door moving, while it happens.

    Houses don't paint themselves, do they? Neither do they paint anything else. So when I want to put the focus on the fact something is happening to my house and not on the fact that somebody is actually doing something, I need a passive tense.
    Like "my house is being painted". In Danish I would have two possibilities. One basically like the modern English construcition and one using the main verb in a passive tense (which does not exist any more in English). But "the house is painting"! Would YOU understand that as a passive tense. I surely would not and therfore I am asking if, or rather when the ending marking it as passive tense, was lost?
     
    Next >
    Top