And more Language Wars

Repost:

Gord Lewis from Elitist Literate Snob, Canada introduces the very same subject that Crimson Wife at Bending the Twig blogged about later: the dumbing down of the American Lexicon. In Gord’s comment he says:

In one generation we have gone from teaching Latin in high schools to teaching remedial English in universities.” I don’t know where this quotation originates, but I do know that I despair of finding a young professional engineer (following the requisite 17 years of education) possessing both analytical skills and the ability to express his/her findings and conclusions on paper. This article cites a number of pure idiots who believe a word should not be used if it is not understood by the listener. Dear readers, if that attitude is taken to its logical conclusion, we all will soon be grunting like chimps…
But never mind vocabulary, knowledge itself is now obsolete in the age of google, so lets dispense with that too. The only class difference I see (and I am truly sorry the UK education minister is still fighting class wars of a previous century), is between corporate entities that now largely control language, and those consumers ready to be exploited like dumb sheep by advanced propaganda techniques.

TOUCHDOWN!! And there was wild cheering from the DHM’s as well as a brief victory dance while she waved the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary madly over her head. It was brief because that thing is heavy. Give the anti-language barbarians their way and in another five years we could mail it with a single first class postage stamp. This would not be progress.

D.M from Toronto talks like a grown up, and he speaks poniards:

to the OISE linguist Clive Beck, who claims that words such as “instruct” and “continue” should be phased out by instructors so that they can “talk on the same level” as their students: How about actually teaching students so that they have to rise up to your level? Teachers should not be spending time trying to be B.F.F. with their pupils and otherwise holding them back unnecessarily from developing as a person and (OMG!) learning new things. Why would a professor be so anti-intellectual as to suggest that words are the problem with communication?

Maybe because he wants us to think communication is only for the experts and should never be tried at home by amateurs?

Brian McKenna from Canada deals a death blow in his final sentence:

“Clive Beck, a professor of education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, relishes the collapse of the standard Western vocabulary. “I think it’s partly a democratization, of getting teachers to have a closer relationship with their students, and being able to talk on the same level. I love correctness in speech and in writing.”

Nice try Clive but what you are proposing is reducing the richness and complexity of the language to that where attaining the lowest common denominator is seen as an achievement.

Your task is to demonstrate to us that using language skills, using the correct words, using allegory and metaphor enhances and enriches our communications and what you are proposing is a return to whistles and grunts.

You obviously churn out Mcstudents.

Ouch!
Open Mike from Vancouver, Canada concurs with others who have pointed out that this cripples our youngsters and makes it easier for a privately educated political leader-class to take over:

“We don’t need no edjacation…..”

Of course not. The more ignorant and simple-minded we render the little darlings when they’re young, the more inert, credulous and malleable they are when they become, um, grown-ups, a win-win situation for the country’s political and economic elites, a real no-brainer.

The consequences are wearily predictable: ignorance and stupidity always exact costs equivalent to the extent to which we indulge them. The current political regime in Ottawa exemplifies some of them as, increasingly, do our country’s broadcast and print media. Is there a way to halt the downward spiral to the dark and ultimate ‘duh!’? I don’t know. But I suggest a start: play Pink Floyd’s song ‘Brick in the Wall’ in class, with its thesis that education ain’t nothing but ‘mind-control’ misspelled. Discuss.

Here’s something that makes me very sad- everybody in this thread, brilliant as they are, is talking as though Beck and company suggest is some new thing, but the only new thing is that he’s openly promoting what has already been the norm for decades.

And poor Clarissa Simpson from Thunder Bay, Canada demonstrates exactly how successful this campaign to handicap our students may be:

What Mr. Brown fails to understand is that each individual learns in a different way, some are in fact verbal learners (therefore their vocabulary would consist of numerous amounts of words). However, there are others (who may even be more intelligent then those who are verbal learner) who learn and teach through visuals. They tend to show this through drawings, hand signals, creative projects and alike. This as Mr. Brown suggests, does not make our society in a dire state, it in fact gives it another edge that would not be there with out them.

An edge for falling off of, apparently. Sentences like this make me miss the late Richard Mitchell. What he would have made of hand signals and alike I can only imagine.

robert foerster from Toronto, Canada is apparently another victim:

…We were just speaking about this on the weekend, and words like Modality and others gibberish that seem to only be used in order to impress, or let everyone know you’ve just stepped through a time portal from the 1800’s!

Ah, yes, that good old pre-Victorian word ‘modality’ (and ‘others gibberish’). Sadly, he has a point, but he’s in the wrong era. Using words like modalities doesn’t make you sound like you come from nearly so educated a time as the 1800s. It makes you sound like you’ve been trapped in graduate school since 1985.

Theodore Streetwise from Canada shares an interesting story from his youth:

In the late sixties, when I attended grade 6 and 7 of a West Island public (meaning public and not Catholic) school in Montreal, I think there was a certain amount of peer pressure not to seem too interested in school. If you gave an elaborate answer in class you might be razzed by your pals at recess.

Thankfully in high school we were streamed into various levels, as in general, technical and academic. Surprisingly to me, one of the kids going on about my learned English accent was streamed into a remedial reading class, as in mid-level special needs, or does not read at grade level.

The lesson here is not listen to your peer group. They might be playing the tall poppy game. Acquire as much vocabulary as you can, and check the dictionary if you’re in doubt.

The other lesson is to look very suspiciously at those who dismiss any signs of education in others, as well as those who insist that it just doesn’t matter whether or not we lose words such as ‘behoove.’

Peter Fulton from Vancouver, Canada writes:

I think in the end it’s pretty simple. English is the world’s great second language. It’s not such a popular first language. As a result it’s becoming a kind of Esperanto, compared to before. Internet, anyone?
I find this totally depressing. I wonder if the French won’t have the last laugh, as their language that was bypassed as the standard international language, survives intact as a result.
No doubt some smarty-pants will find all kinds of errors in my text, but I’m no purist or snob. I just want to be able to call that person ‘pedantic’ without the listener looking at me as if I’ve just swallowed a dictionary…is that so much to ask? To all of those of you who think that a word shouldn’t be used if the listener is in danger of not knowing it…well I wish your parents had taken that attitude when you were two years old.

That will be an interesting experiment to try if the FYB ever perfects his time travel machine.

The discussion on the big words article is closed now- at that website. There are no more delicious comments to share. We can continue to discuss it here (and probably will) indefinitely. It is a topic of infinite interest to me.

Here’s where it all began. Mama Squirrel followed up here. And I responded here. And then I was so interested I went and read all sixty some odd comments and copied the best ones. Then I noticed on particular thread that was especially amusing so I extracted that out and posted about it here. And then I shared a little personal story about how and why I had learned how destructive it can be to play the soft bigotry of low expectations game.
Others weighed in with their thoughts.

This entry was posted in Books, education, Words: Writing, blogging, Wordspotting, etc.. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

8 Comments

  1. Cass
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 2:09 am | Permalink

    As someone who thinks in a very verbal fashion–a very vocal, verbal fashion, much to the occasional dismay of my family–I’ve always felt that broadening my vocabulary broadened not just my ability to speak, but also my ability to think. “Ten dollar words” aren’t just big, fancy synonyms for other, smaller words. They carry subtle shades of meaning, and being able to put those nuances into words makes it easier for me to think about nuanced and complex subjects. Words provide a framework around which I can drape thoughts, and, please forgive the hard left turn into dystopia, whenever I read about intentionally pruning the English language, I can think of nothing so much as Newspeak.

  2. Posted October 15, 2012 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    Interesting.

    Not what I expected as I misread the title while quickly scrolling through my blog list and thought the title was “And More Lasagna Wars.” I had something like a recipe comparison in mind.

    Anyway, I wish I had time to read the posts that read up to this, but I currently do not.

    However, I do think that in order to come sort of consensus one has to consider two things:

    What defines an “educated” person?

    And, What is the purpose of Education?

  3. Posted October 15, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the link, DHM!

  4. Thalia
    Posted October 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Have you read Anne Fadiman’s essay “The Joy of Sesquipedalians” from Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader? It’s a celebration of long and obscure words that also explores some of the changes in American vocabulary.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted October 16, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      I have blogged about it before.=) Search ‘sesquipedalian” to find it.=)

      • Thalia
        Posted October 16, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

        I was going to say “Great!”, but given the subject at hand, I shall go with copacetic and selcouth. 🙂

  5. Donna
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    After reading the links I went to read my other blog posts and saw this one:
    http://softsolder.com/2012/10/15/monthly-picture-laboratory-study-of-the-grasshopper/
    My how things have changed! BTW, your son might enjoy that blog. It is super geeky and he fixes literally everything and he gives step by step instructions! It warms my geek loving heart!

  6. Maggie Evans
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    My 6 year old understands words like “instruct” and “continue.”

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