Decline of English Grammar

Alxmrphi

Senior Member
UK English
I heard an example of this only a few days ago on a US TV show discussing the situation in Oklahoma after the huge tornado that ripped through there causing all that damage. It was reported that "The city is rebuilding" or here is another example after Hurricane Katrina. There are still vestiges of the usage you're talking about but it is no longer normal at all, but it's extremely well written about in books on the history of English and it's often toted as one of the more recent syntactic changes to take place in English (only been a couple of centuries old).

"My house is being built" used to be ridiculed and nearly all the major contemporaries writing about proper English uses basically spat on it as an unworthy horrible innovation. Then it took hold and became standard. I don't know what you mean about the 'ending' but it's just an interpretation of the tense. Basically, it had an unaccusative (i.e. subject undergoes action of verb) reading before a switch to only accepting an agentive reading was possible (when people started adding reflexive pronouns to correctly add in a correct object as well).

You might want to check this paper out.
If you're more like me and prefer podcasts then you can access one from this page, which details the history of the construction and all sorts of interesting details that relate to it.
 
  • Judica

    Senior Member
    AE (US), Spanish (LatAm)
    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.
    I agree. No language remains the same or else all English speakers would still be using Norse. Also, young people tend to take a language and 'make it their own'; so to speak. Grammar is only the agreed upon confines for a particular language.

    US (AE) English grammar constantly evolves due to the addition of words, phrases, and colloquialisms from it's many citizens who are from all over the world.
     

    funnyhat

    Senior Member
    American English
    It's been noted here and elsewhere that there seems to be a tendency in languages to "simplify" to become more analytic. For me this raises the question: why were ancient languages so complex? Did Classical Latin, in turn, derive from a language with even more declensions and such?
     

    Nino83

    Senior Member
    Italian
    As far as I know Middle English and Vulgar Latin lost declensions because the pronunciation changed.
    ME reduced all final vowels to [ə] and lost final /n/ so all weak nouns, neuter and feminine strong nouns had a lot of similar or identical terminations and the masculine strong nouns declesion became the general declesion.
    Vulgar Latin lost the difference between long and short vowels and lost the final /m/ and /s/ (in noun declesion).
    Other languages (as Slavic but also Icelandic) didn't have these changes and retained the case system.
     

    olaszinho

    Senior Member
    Central Italian
    I suppose you are referring to English morphology, which is rather simplified compared with other Indo-European languages, maybe apart from the Scandinavian languages (obviously I'm not including Icelandic and Faroese). On the other hand, English syntax is quite complicated, with a lot of nuances and intricacies ( use of articles, verb tenses, prepositions, phrasal verbs and so on). In my humble opinion, as far as languages are concerned, the easier morphology is, the harder the structure....As a consequence, English grammar is not declining, it is just changing into a deeply analytic tongue. Chinese, an isolating language, has no "grammar", but its syntax is so unpredictable.
     
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    Ёж!

    Senior Member
    Русский
    It's been noted here and elsewhere that there seems to be a tendency in languages to "simplify" to become more analytic. For me this raises the question: why were ancient languages so complex? Did Classical Latin, in turn, derive from a language with even more declensions and such?
    I think you need to conduct a really tough investigation to make such conclusions... For example, modern Chinese acquired the habit of using many polysyllabic words, which Ancient Chinese lacked (as far as I know); and some of the syllables are used like morphemes for various abstractions (scientific, common-life, institutional, etc). Is this about becoming more analytic?
     
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    More od Solzi

    Senior Member
    Macedonian
    I heard an example of this only a few days ago on a US TV show discussing the situation in Oklahoma after the huge tornado that ripped through there causing all that damage. It was reported that "The city is rebuilding" or here is another example after Hurricane Katrina. There are still vestiges of the usage you're talking about but it is no longer normal at all, but it's extremely well written about in books on the history of English and it's often toted as one of the more recent syntactic changes to take place in English (only been a couple of centuries old)..
    The city is rebulding, the house is renovating (19th century usage) is still present is some expressions: The film is releasing next Monday. (instead of The film is being released next Monday; They are releasing the film next Monday).
    In Indian English, the current usage is> The film is releasing...
     
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    franknagy

    Senior Member
    The English grammar is simple only at the first glance. Later you arrive at the stage that you understand the words one by one but you do not understand the sentence. The missing commas between subordinate clauses are awful, too. There is no visual aid to separate them.
     

    merquiades

    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    The city is rebulding, the house is renovating (19th century usage) is still present is some expressions: The film is releasing next Monday. (instead of The film is being released next Monday; They are releasing the film next Monday).
    In Indian English, the current usage is> The film is releasing...
    I don't believe these structures are necessarily archaic. "The city is rebuilding after the earthquake" is perfect. It makes it sound more active, like a metaphor for everyone is coming together to rebuild. It just depends on the context and what message you wish to convey.
     

    Mishe

    Senior Member
    Slovenian
    The whole debate about some languages being simpler than others is a silly one, in my opinion. It all really depends on the perspective. Slovenian, for instance, has 6 cases for nouns and adjectives, 3 grammatical genders, and 3 grammatical numbers (singular, dual, plural). It also has a bunch of declinations and conjugations. However, it only has 3 tenses (past, present, future), doesn't have the subjunctive mood, barely uses the passive voice and has a considerably more relaxed word order. Would I say that either of them is simpler/more complicated? No. Would I say either of them is "richer" or "richer in expression" then the other one? No, but sometimes it's easier to express some things in English, because it has a larger vocabulary. Otherwise, no, all languages have their "easy" bits and extremely difficult ones as well.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    To return to the original post:
    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?
    This seems to be an illogical statement: it presupposes that there is (or was) an ‘ideal grammar’ – there is not.

    This is the mistakes of comparing an evolving language with some vague earlier form. I have yet to hear someone say, “I wish we still spoke the English that was current in Bolton Road, Manchester on 15th of June 1809. It was perfect! And here is a short paper on why it was perfect…”

    It seems remarkably like a person saying, “Why has this forest changed for the worst? When I was here 50 years ago, this part was all beautiful saplings. The rule is that there should be saplings”

    Observers of language do just that, they observe the past performance, which is all they can do. They do not police the language; they are permanently one step behind the language trying, perhaps to record, or build an explanation for, a recent neologism, construction or phrase. As soon as a grammar book is written, it is out of date. Horses may be led to water…

    I remind myself that I am 66 years old, and that I was 9 when grammar seriously reared its head. The person who taught me then was about 45. He was born near the turn of the century, and he must have been taught by someone who probably learned their English in the 1880s and that had the effect on him that his teaching had on me... opinions were formed, stances were taken.

    Yes, the language and grammar of the 17th – to 19th century is pleasing, but I suggest that it is pleasing because we can read it and not only understand it, but understand why it is like that. And then we smugly think to ourselves, “I can understand all that but I bet 80% of English speakers cannot! I must be somewhat superior.”

    In 300 years time, the same complaint will be made. Someone will find WRF and remark: “Look at this topic in WRF! Look at the language and the use of nouns and verbs: it is beautiful! Why has English deteriorated so badly?” And the sentiment of most of the posts here will be repeated.

    If there were any truth in the charge that language/grammar is deteriorating, by now we would be communicating in grunts and no word would be longer than five letters. :)
     

    lettore

    Member
    russo
    Hello,

    A couple of remarks from an outsider, since you pose the question in a more general way…
    As soon as a grammar book is written, it is out of date.
    Strange, I don't have this impression in Russian. :)
    In 300 years time, the same complaint will be made. Someone will find WRF and remark: “Look at this topic in WRF! Look at the language and the use of nouns and verbs: it is beautiful! Why has English deteriorated so badly?” And the sentiment of most of the posts here will be repeated.
    I don't think so. One thing is when we read pieces of brilliant prose in Latin, the other thing is when we read casual observations of that time written in Latin (I think). We never read the latter, because we have no reason to do it. (With the exception for historians, but even they don't read everything). The same with English; hardly any posts here will look any better in the future than they look now. We are so used to masterpieces, written in the past, that many think that a) it is proper for a masterpiece to be written in past times; b) it is proper for a masterpiece to be written in a special language, mystically different from the language we know; c) therefore, it is proper for a masterpiece to be written in a special language of old; d) therefore, it is proper for the language of old to be a language of masterpieces. As you see, this reasoning is not exactly fine.

    I think what we actually complain for is the change of the topics; the change of the languages is secondary. In the already second-to-previous century many people would complain that, let us say, railroads act badly on nerves; that they, as a means, interfere with a human's proper consideration, finding out what is the purpose; and so on. They were right; but the railroads and other inventions (enhanced hygiene, most importantly) brought some quality into life; and even whether the previous clause is correct or not, our life had changed anyway, because we are so made, because it could not evade having changed. And so we complain about it. And so we complain about the fact that languages had changed. Even those features of the languages, that changed but were not probably connected with such changes of topics, even such terms could remind of the past topics and be understood in their context, and so receive their attractive charm.

    Best luck!
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Hi, lettore,

    I think you are arguing a point that I did not make: sure, there are masterpieces of language, but these appear every century. They do not depend on the grammar of the day, they depend on the skill of the writer in that grammar. This would indicate that, whatever the grammar, the masterpiece would exist.

    I like your second paragraph. Yes, the fact is "People do not like things to change." Everything was better in the old days, even the weather!

    If humans do not like change, they will not like changes in language and grammar. But the generation who grows up with the new language/grammar think that it is normal and cannot understand the older generation... until they become old themselves.
     

    lettore

    Member
    russo
    Hi, Paul,

    Sorry, I was not clear. My point in the first paragraph was that the reason why we love languages of old must be partly that we get acquainted only with their best realisations, but we don't read, e.g. second-class newspapers of those times, which may have been written in no less awful language than modern newspapers of this class, and so on. I.e. our love is partly an illusion, a result of partial knowledge; it is not an automatic consequence of the fact of the change. After 300 years, if people will still read this conversation and other conversations in these fora (hello, by the way!), they probably will not love their language very much. It is different with masterpieces that might or might not be written in the closest fututre.

    In my second paragraph, I was intending, that even if we accept that we love some features of a language that we now perceive as old (whether this perception is correct from the point of view of reason is another question; my opinion is that many such features are indeed modern, only maybe special in use) without having them associated with mastepieces of past times (by the way, I am not so optimistic as you are :) ; rather, I am agnostic, I don't know where people will want to excel in the future), still, there is another reason why we do, that is not connected just with the fact of the change and that does not force me to guess automatically that in 300 years time the English posts here will be seen with admiration: maybe we love it because of a very specific change of topics. With the cultural revolution after the Industrial Revolution, and with its effects on our thinking and on our history (effects of historical events included), we won something, but we lost something as well. People use what they won without giving it a second thought, but they feel the loss and could not evade complaining about it. Humanity probably will not have a second revolution so profound; the techniques will change of course, but the world of technology as such will not be invented again. So there will not be the same reason for nostalgy. The cutting line (for now) is 1914. (Although of course, if the civilisation will live for another 10 thousand years, it probably will pay no more attention to this date than we do to the Greco-Persian wars, and after another 50 thousand years there will not be enough people to know everything important about the past ages; but this is a different subject).

    I am writing from the background of a different language, but I think that the same nostalgy must have been the guiding idea behind the creation of this thread about English as well.
     
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    Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    Hi, lettore,

    I think you are arguing a point that I did not make: sure, there are masterpieces of language, but these appear every century. They do not depend on the grammar of the day, they depend on the skill of the writer in that grammar. This would indicate that, whatever the grammar, the masterpiece would exist.

    I like your second paragraph. Yes, the fact is "People do not like things to change." Everything was better in the old days, even the weather!

    If humans do not like change, they will not like changes in language and grammar. But the generation who grows up with the new language/grammar think that it is normal and cannot understand the older generation... until they become old themselves.

    I am very much enjoying this conservation. Great intellectual entertainment here!

    People tend to be lazy with language in everyday life.

    We want linguistic simplicity without grammar rules, though "verbosely" impatient styles of everyday American English grossly hamper the strong attempt for a clear message.

    Grammar plays a vital role in language, even if we think it's unimportant in everyday talk. Grammar and punctuation constitute linguistic glue - without it, language can still functions well, though native speakers of a same language can expect to get "broken messages" from each other, particularly in more complicated language structure situations.
     

    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    If there were any truth in the charge that language/grammar is deteriorating, by now we would be communicating in grunts and no word would be longer than five letters. :)
    It's worth noting too that people in the 16th and 17th century were bemoaning how English was a ''rough'' and ''unsophisticated'' tounge in comparison with Latin, Ancient Greek or even French. Now a great many of us see that same period as the high point of English literature.

    As you say, plus ça change....
     

    funnyhat

    Senior Member
    American English
    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.
    This is actually a noteworthy difference between British and American English. Americans still use the subjunctive on a fairly regular basis. For example, we might say "It is important that he be on time."
     

    mexerica feliz

    Senior Member
    português nordestino
    I heard an example of this only a few days ago on a US TV show discussing the situation in Oklahoma after the huge tornado that ripped through there causing all that damage. It was reported that "The city is rebuilding" or here is another example after Hurricane Katrina. There are still vestiges of the usage you're talking about but it is no longer normal at all, but it's extremely well written about in books on the history of English and it's often toted as one of the more recent syntactic changes to take place in English (only been a couple of centuries old).

    "My house is being built" used to be ridiculed and nearly all the major contemporaries writing about proper English uses basically spat on it as an unworthy horrible innovation. Then it took hold and became standard. I don't know what you mean about the 'ending' but it's just an interpretation of the tense. Basically, it had an unaccusative (i.e. subject undergoes action of verb) reading before a switch to only accepting an agentive reading was possible (when people started adding reflexive pronouns to correctly add in a correct object as well).

    You might want to check this paper out.
    If you're more like me and prefer podcasts then you can access one from this page, which details the history of the construction and all sorts of interesting details that relate to it.
    you can hear
    The house is renovating and
    The film is releasing next week.

    in commonwealth English.
    it sounds quaint
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    @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?

    I could mention at least three other European languages that went down the same path. If you count the non national languages probably a lot more.

    I think it is odd, too theoretical and very short sighted, when someone thinks these changes in a language just happen, all by themselves. Most people neglect that lots of historical - political - changes also influence the circumstances under which a language is used.

    If the language is used for purposes where a wide spectrum of possibiliies of describing situations, circumstances, emotions etc. it will probably maintain the functions with which you can do that. If not, it will eventually lose them. It is as simple as that.

    That could be all the complex flexions. In other languages it could be something else. In North Western Europe it was the flexions.
     
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    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    I've just come across this thread, so excuse me for ignoring the more recent discussions. In post #38, back in 2006, cuchuflete said,
    Try translating saudade from Português to English in less than a paragraph.
    The word "saudade" is known to lovers of Brazilian music... and lovers of Afro-American music know its exact equivalent; I think "tenho saudade" and "I got the blues" mean the same thing.
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings

    I come late to this discussion, and have only skim-read the thread, so forgive me if I have missed something important or am duplicating others' observations.
    As far as I know Middle English and Vulgar Latin lost declensions because the pronunciation changed.
    This does not ring true. In the case of English, it was because in the Middle Ages the need for mutual comprehension between (chiefly) Norman French (already only scantily observant of inflexion because of its own mixed parentage) and Anglo-Saxon outstripped the need for strict adherence to the rules of accidence in either.
    As for "Vulgar Latin", there never was a uniformly declined system. Inscriptions from e.g. Pompeii (for example) display a marked inconformity with the "rules" of classical Latin, and given the geographical extent of the Roman empire, and its kaleidoscopic demography, the contrary would surprise.
    Σ
     

    Nino83

    Senior Member
    Italian
    As for "Vulgar Latin", there never was a uniformly declined system. Inscriptions from e.g. Pompeii (for example) display a marked inconformity with the "rules" of classical Latin, and given the geographical extent of the Roman empire, and its kaleidoscopic demography, the contrary would surprise.
    The loss of genitive and dative case was also due to the analytic forms (de + ablativo and ad + accusativo), but the merger of these two cases in one single oblique case was due to the loss of the contrastive vowel length, rosā/a, murō/o and sermonē/e.
    And the fact that these changes are equal from Portugal to Italy, it means that they were just present before the fall of the Roman Empire.
     

    Copperknickers

    Senior Member
    Scotland - Scots and English
    It's been noted here and elsewhere that there seems to be a tendency in languages to "simplify" to become more analytic. For me this raises the question: why were ancient languages so complex? Did Classical Latin, in turn, derive from a language with even more declensions and such?
    Firstly, ancient languages were not as complex as they might seem. Latin as it was used by ordinary people may still have had all the complex voices and moods and cases, but when you look at simpler texts you start to see that people often didn't bother with the kind of impenetrable syntax you might find in Cicero or Virgil. The average Roman slave would probably have struggled to understand Ovid or Lucretius.

    Secondly, yes, Classical Latin did derive from a language with even more declensions: it derived from PIE (proto-Indo European) which had 9 cases. But one of the reasons Latin is so difficult is that it has lost cases: the roles of some cases have merged, so it's often impossible to tell what the ablative signifies without semantic context. Compare this to PIE, where the roles of the ablative were separated out into distinct cases which have a narrower and more transparent range of meaning, and you'll see that multiple cases can make things easier rather than harder.

    Thirdly, you need to look at things on a longer timescale. If I remember correctly, there's a common trend in morphology shift: languages often move from fusional (e.g. Latin) to partially analytic (e.g. English) to full on isolating (e.g. Mandarin). But then, they can develop into agglutinative languages, and from there they will often develop into fusional languages again. A proper linguist can explain why this is better than me, iirc it is because agglutinative languages often make for very long words and are prone to simplification and other processes which lead to fusional inflection. So it's not a linear process, but rather a cycle: perhaps in due course English will become agglutinative.
     

    luitzen

    Senior Member
    Frisian, Dutch and Low Saxon
    Thirdly, you need to look at things on a longer timescale. If I remember correctly, there's a common trend in morphology shift: languages often move from fusional (e.g. Latin) to partially analytic (e.g. English) to full on isolating (e.g. Mandarin). But then, they can develop into agglutinative languages, and from there they will often develop into fusional languages again. A proper linguist can explain why this is better than me, iirc it is because agglutinative languages often make for very long words and are prone to simplification and other processes which lead to fusional inflection. So it's not a linear process, but rather a cycle: perhaps in due course English will become agglutinative.
    I think it is interesting that you mention this. West-Frisian has a more complex grammar (or at least aspects of it) than Dutch. While Dutch does not really change much, West-Frisian is loosing some of this complexity at a very rapid pace up to the point that new grammatical structures start to arise.

    For example, in Dutch, there are (in general) three different forms of the present indicative of verbs (1st person singular, 2nd and 3rd person singular, and plural). In West-Frisian there are four different forms (1st person singular, 2nd person singular, 3rd person singular, and plural). These four forms see to be rapidly decreasing to one single, uninflected, form.

    There are also nine different subject pronouns in Dutch as well as in West-Frisian (one 1st person singular and one 2nd person singular, three 3rd person singular, three plural and one second person informal). In West-Frisian they now often get reduced to one syllable, one letter or even nothing at all.
    In questions and some other clauses with a verb first construction, they seem to form one single unit with the verb. For the 2nd person singular this process has already completed. Now if West-Frisian changed word order (and this seems to be the hard part), it would probably lose its pronouns and gain a more complex system of verb conjugation in a very short time. And who is to say that it wouldn't reinvent the wheel and come up with new pronouns again?

    If speakers of English would decide to mix up word order I can imagine that English pronouns would merge with verbs and that they would invent new pronouns.
     

    uchi.m

    Banned
    Brazil, Portuguese
    Stating that English has decayed is an overstatement. All languages "decayed" in some sense or another, otherwise we would still be speaking Proto-Indo European.

    Spanish has lost future of subjunctive. Portuguese has gained gerundism from English, but used to have an equivalent construction before. Japanese has lost some syllables that were present during WW2.

    Hi
    :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.
    Saudade conveys the meaning of homesickness, but not only for home, since I could have saudade de macarrão and those few words would bring about all the sensory flashbacks related to pasta and be imparted on my conscient mind. Besides, telling someone that you have nostalgia of pasta wouldn't be of much help.

    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.
    Dictionaries are meant to be a first-time rescue to the poor language learner. Besides, it has to be handy enough to fit in a pocket, so any attempt to be verbose would be limited by this desired feature.

    What yardstick did you apply before coming up with this bit of arrogance? " how far these languages are behind English"
    This isn't exactly arrogance, in my point of view. Just lack of mindfulness to other languages, and just Magmod playing the troll. Moderators are a unique sort of trolls because they feel empowered within their forum section(s), and may take for granted what others struggle to understand, so they seldom dumb down to the poor learner's level of understanding.
     
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    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    @Stating that English has decayed is an overstatement. All languages "decayed" in some sense or another, otherwise we would still be speaking Proto-Indo European.

    Actually, English reached the point where it could be called an English language through gradual changes in grammar and vocabulary. So the word "decay" is totally useless to describe that neverending process.
    What could be a cause of concern, though, is when people on a large scale ignore grammatical rules and thus limit the possbilities of communication with the language, and that they often do not understand what is being said in what should be "their language". But that is not only a problem in the English language.
     

    Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    @Stating that English has decayed is an overstatement. All languages "decayed" in some sense or another, otherwise we would still be speaking Proto-Indo European.

    Actually, English reached the point where it could be called an English language through gradual changes in grammar and vocabulary. So the word "decay" is totally useless to describe that neverending process.
    What could be a cause of concern, though, is when people on a large scale ignore grammatical rules and thus limit the possbilities of communication with the language, and that they often do not understand what is being said in what should be "their language". But that is not only a problem in the English language.

    I agree totally.:tick:

    Language rules are there to help "perfect" communication. They are glue for stringing words together in sequence of logic and clarity.

    There is so much miscommunication in English because of poor grammar, misspellings, etc.

    I cringe while reading newspapers and online publications. Sometimes I cannot get my head around what is being said in an article, etc. And it's not because I have bad reading comprehension skills.:rolleyes:
     
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    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Language rules are there to help "perfect" communication. They are glue for stringing words together in sequence of logic and clarity.
    Well, that's one way of looking at it.
    Another is that rules are formulated in the hope of bringing order to – or imposing order on – the chaos of natural language, which is, of course, spoken.
    The Rules of Written English, in particular the Rules of Fine Prose (to call it that), are there to there to create a 'perfect' and, in relation to spoken English, entirely artificial construct:)
     

    Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    Well, that's one way of looking at it.
    Another is that rules are formulated in the hope of bringing order to – or imposing order on – the chaos of natural language, which is, of course, spoken.
    The Rules of Written English, in particular the Rules of Fine Prose (to call it that), are there to there to create a 'perfect' and, in relation to spoken English, entirely artificial construct:)
    Absolutely!

    Standardization is key to promoting "almost" perfect understanding among different dialects of one language.
     
    If people stuck to the "best" form of their language, then, for example, Latin would never have devolved into the Romance languages, because it is by far the most efficient tongue of them all. But all languages move on and evolve.

    I think English suffered from an attempt to fossilise it in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Teachers taught rules for the sake of having rules, and classicists added to the trend by trying to assimilate English grammar to Latin and ancient Greek grammar. The myth began, that there is a proper form of English and that everything else is wrong. But the sheer force of human ingenuity in the face of necessity has forced changes that are making old rules obsolete.

    For example, some delightful forms of expression have come from the Caribbean and India, which are changing the English norms in Britain, even modifying regional accents. The generation just being born now will have a quite different idea of how British English should be spoken, because their parents (generations X and Y) have lived through a transition and are passing on new models.

    English is changing so much, that I predict that language historians in centuries to come will add a new era to the history of English. We have Old English from c. 600 to c. 1100. Middle English from c. 1100 to c. 1500, and Modern English thereafter. The new era, which we can only call "Post-modern English" at the moment, will be reckoned to have started in about 2000, but in truth its first shoots were appearing as long ago as 1945, when so much began to change.

    The movinge finger writeth and, having writ, moves on, innit?
     

    Olaszinhok

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Latin would never have devolved into the Romance languages, because it is by far the most efficient tongue of them all. But all languages move on and evolve.
    Could you please elaborate the above statement? Why is Latin such an efficient Language compared to the Romance languages? I beg your pardon but, in my opinion, your statement doesn't make any sense from a linguistic point of view.
     
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    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    I find it a bit absurd that you think languages get less efficient over time. Try to translate a scientific text into Classical Latin, using actual Latin words the Romans would have understood. It will be a lot longer (less "efficient") than the French version.

    I am not at all surprised that Latin is more "efficient" than Modern French when it comes to talking about war, slavery, gladiators, superstition or amphitheaters. As if modern Frenchmen want to talk about that.
    English is changing so much, that I predict that language historians in centuries to come will add a new era to the history of English. We have Old English from c. 600 to c. 1100. Middle English from c. 1100 to c. 1500, and Modern English thereafter. The new era, which we can only call "Post-modern English" at the moment, will be reckoned to have started in about 2000, but in truth its first shoots were appearing as long ago as 1945, when so much began to change.
    The difference between Old English and Middle English (or between Middle English and Modern English) is way bigger than between 1917 and 2017. There has been no drastic grammatical changes as of late. In other words: English isn't changing any quicker than it used to.
     

    Olaszinhok

    Senior Member
    Italian
    I dare say that "efficient" is not a linguistic term, languages can be more or less synthetic or analytic and obviously both are quite "efficient"! :)

    Synthetic ones can also be divided into agglutinative, fusional and polysinthetic. All these languages can be "efficient".
     

    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    Walter Bagehot's The English Constitution was written in the late 1860s but, excluding the obvious references to that era, is an entirely 'modern' read with regard to its language.

    If anything, advances in technology have levelled different English dialects. I see no reason to assume why this should not continue.
     

    rightnow

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Just the first (subjective and pejorative) word "Decline" begs the question, petitio principii.
     

    Doraemon-

    Senior Member
    "Spanish - Spain" "Catalan - Valencia"
    This happens in every language and since the dawn of time. Take a look on Saussure and evolutionary linguistics ;)
     

    L'irlandais

    Senior Member
    Ireland: English-speaking ♂
    A couple points worth bearing in mind when replying to this discussion.
    The OP was 14 or 15 years of age, so it seems to me more of a teenage strop about schooling than a serious thesis on the present state of grammatical English.
    Early Modern English had fewer rules, so the present day version must be seen as an evolution. And if English is still evolving, then the continuing simplification of its grammar, must be seen as an improvement, rather than a decline.
    Post-modern English, is an International language, which is shedding all its regional quirks, picked up in the post Middle English period.
     

    Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    Doesn't older versions of English have a lot in common with Icelandic, especially in terms of syntax? Not sure why I think that.

    I had no clue that Middle and Early English had less grammatical rules. That I never knew.
     

    L'irlandais

    Senior Member
    Ireland: English-speaking ♂
    Perhaps you are right Icetrance, my point is the OP, didn’t give much thought to aspects such as these. My thinking was as follows: since Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, predates any of the grammatical elements brought by the Normans. I feel we can safely say, it had less grammatical rules than present day English. Middle English, saw sweeping changes in Shakespearien times, not just in spelling and pronunciation, but as in simplifying Anglo Saxon word ending and Norman conjugation. If there were more grammatical rules at the time, I would be surprised. But happy to be corrected on this. Pamphlets published on the subject in the 1500s were not met with unanimous acceptance. Even in the 1700s much ironing out was still to be done, to arrive at the present day situation of widespread agreement.

    Present day books on grammar, were practically unheard of back then, and certainly not widely available to commoners, like myself. Writers back then took far more liberties with the language, without fear of being told they were most certainly wrong, about some trifling point or other.
     
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    L'irlandais

    Senior Member
    Ireland: English-speaking ♂
    Jokes aside, the mere fact we have the luxury of having the free time to reflect on such things proves my point. (For Old English anyway) Anglo Saxon was a spoken language, contemporary with the dialects still spoken here in DriEckland. These dialects differ from one village to the next, as they would have done in Saxon England. I will spare you the academic links, supporting my point of view, but I do have several valid sources. The average Saxon had far more pressing things to worry about, than musing about whether the word table would be better conjugated in masculin, feminine or neutral. Pressing things, like subsistence, I mean.

    In Shakespearien times, the common man’s situation may have improved, but after a hard day’s work he was more likely to come home and put his feet up to a hot toddy than to sit over a study table and burn the midnight oil, worrying about some grammatical error he overheard during his working day.

    So, in conclusion, and to repeat what others have said above, far from being in decline, as suggested in the OP, English grammar has never been healthier. The existence of WR online dictionary is proof positive of that. It is the very simplification bemoaned by the OP, which is in fact the strength of the English language. That which has allowed it to become one of the lingua franca used when French and Germans (for example) meet and cannot communicate because their pristine grammatical systems are not mutually intelligible. It is in fact, the beloved French, which he so highly regards, which is in decline. Precisely because La vieille dame du quai conti refuses to relax her grip on the accepted rules of usage. His comparison of French and English written in the 1600s shows the very opposite of what he claims.
     
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    killerbee256

    Senior Member
    American English
    Doesn't older versions of English have a lot in common with Icelandic, especially in terms of syntax? Not sure why I think that.

    I had no clue that Middle and Early English had less grammatical rules. That I never knew.
    Old English is closer to German grammar wise. Written Icelandic is almost the same as old Norse and old Norse already dropped a lot of declensions that old English retained.
     

    Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    Old English is closer to German grammar wise. Written Icelandic is almost the same as old Norse and old Norse already dropped a lot of declensions that old English retained.
    Thank you very much. :)

    Syntactically? Did English ever put all verbs at the end in complex sentences like in Luther's German? In Low German, I am not sure if verbs always went to the end in subordinating clauses, etc.
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    Thank you very much. :)

    Syntactically? Did English ever put all verbs at the end in complex sentences like in Luther's German? In Low German, I am not sure if verbs always went to the end in subordinating clauses, etc.
    Low German is SOV in subordinate clauses just like Dutch and German.

    Wikipedia says this about Old English' word order, but no sources are given:
    Main clauses in Old English tend to have a verb-second (V2) order, where the verb is the second constituent in a sentence, regardless of what comes first. There are echoes of this in modern English: "Hardly did he arrive when ...", "Never can it be said that ...", "Over went the boat", "Ever onward marched the weary soldiers ...", "Then came a loud sound from the sky above". In Old English, however, it was much more extensive, like the word order in modern German. If the subject appears first, there is an SVO order, but it can also yield orders such as OVS and others. In questions VSO was common, see below.

    In subordinate clauses, however, the word order is completely different, with verb-final constructions the norm, again as in German. Furthermore, in poetry, all the rules were frequently broken. In Beoƿulf, for example, main clauses frequently have verb-initial or verb-final order, and subordinate clauses often have verb-second order. (However, in clauses introduced by þā, which can mean either "when" or "then", and where word order is crucial for telling the difference, the normal word order is nearly always followed.)
     
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