Is English Deteriorating?

The grammar, punctuation, syntax, and spelling in our country are nothing less than dreadful.  And our youth don’t have a monopoly on this.  It includes major media figures, political leaders, public spokespersons of major corporations, organizations, and the clergy.  Examples:

*  Its a beautiful thing.  Sorry—IT’S A BEAUTIFUL THING.

*  We visited many country’s.  Sorry—WE VISITED MANY COUNTRIES.  Simple plural, no need for a possessive or apostrophe.

*  Attorney-Generals.   Sorry—it’s ATTORNEYS-GENERAL, just like MOTHERS-IN-LAW.

*  We’re going to visit the Stewart’s.  Sorry—WE’RE GOING TO VISIT THE STEWARTS.

This is but a small smattering of the grammatical errors I see and hear everyday in both print and spoken media.  The other night, a screen bullet on the Tucker Carlson Show, read “warrents” instead of “warrants.”  Tucker bears the ultimate responsibility for this.

I understand that our schools have for all intents and purposes dropped traditional English from their curricula.  The explanations given include, “There’s no point in wasting precious classtime on memorizing a bunch of “subjective human constructs.”  But of course, there’s plenty of time to waste on climate change, racism, misogyny, and transgender bathrooms.

Another common explanation is that English is “racist and serves to advance and undergird white privilege.”  Try telling that to Bill Cosby who, despite his alleged crimes and character flaws, had much to say about “black English,” including, “I cannot understand what these kids are saying.”  I’ll take it a step further, “I can’t understand what any of our kids are saying.”

And this isn’t a current development.  Twenty-five years ago, my wife and I hosted a German exchange student for an academic year.  He became a tutor in his English class !  Can you effing believe that?

The public school system is our national disgrace.  The taxpayers are paying $15,000 a pop to educate each of our kids.  The teachers’ unions should be horsewhipped.  And get this–so should the parents.  The schools are supposed to augment what our kids are taught at home by their parents and elder siblings.  My parents worked with me every evening, sometimes unpleasantly so, on my multiplication and division tables, flash cards (anyone remember them), reading, spelling, and so forth.  Our kids would be better off watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune every night than going to school.

Everyone has dropped the ball on this.  Take matters into your own hands.  Don’t wait for the government to educate you children.  They can’t find the doorknob or pour piss from a boot.

I understand we have far more pressing problems in this country than periods and commas.  But the deterioration of English and grammar is just another example of the overall breakdown of discipline in our country.  —Artful Dilettante


All quotes from Famous Last Words: The American Language Crisis ReconAllsidered, Harvey A. Daniels.

1.  The common language is disappearing. It is slowly being crushed to death under the weight of verbal conglomerate, a pseudospeech at once both pretentious and feeble, that is created daily by millions of blunders and inaccuracies in grammar, syntax, idiom, metaphor, logic, and common sense…. In the history of modern English there is no period in which such victory over thought-in-speech has been so widespread. Nor in the past has the general idiom, on which we depend for our very understanding of vital matters, been so seriously distorted.Recent graduates, including those with university degrees, seem to have no mastery of the language at all. They cannot construct a simple declarative sentence, either orally or in writing. They cannot spell common, everyday words. Punctuation is apparently no longer taught. Grammar is a complete mystery to almost all recent graduates.

2.  From every college in the country goes up the cry, “Our freshmen can’t spell, can’t punctuate.” Every high school is in disrepair because its pupils are so ignorant of the merest rudiments.

3.  The vocabularies of the majority of high-school pupils are amazingly small. I always try to use simple English, and yet I have talked to classes when quite a minority of the pupils did not comprehend more than half of what I said.

4. Unless the present progress of change [is] arrested…there can be no doubt that, in another century, the dialect of the Americans will become utterly unintelligible to an Englishman. Our language is degenerating very fast.


3 thoughts on “Is English Deteriorating?

  1. I have to say, I completely disagree with you.

    It would be useful if you quoted some studies or facts rather than — or in addition to — cultural anecdotes (stories) to help bolster your opinion. You’re free to talk about stories and your reactions but it really helps your argument if you can point to some concrete works or studies to illustrate your point. I am not criticizing, just trying to share how I feel about such things.

    Ic ne witie ymbe hwy þu sprecest oþþe hwy þu gram biþ. Meaht-þu ne mara trahtian? Þæs Englisces tungan wendeþ awa…

    Can you understand that? (If you can, come talk to me; it’s fun.) It is English from only 1000 years ago. Notice how today’s English is so utterly different in many ways. The deformations, continued invasions, global spread and continual absorption of words has broken down the old structures and created a very flexible, creole-like language that has full expressivity — quite a feat! As a result, it has become one of the easiest international languages to get a good initial grip on (mastery takes a lifetime, but that is almost always true), spreading over the world with gusto. That process continues even today. In many ways, it is heartening to see that the language continues to change. Today’s “bored” youth — that you blast with the tongue of old man venom — are creating the new useful forms that will keep the language relevant for another 1000 years, just as you and your generation did.

    English spelling sucks. If no one can spell, eventually people will start to get the gumption to demand change and spell it the way they want. This will accelerate learning of the language for those who come after them! What a wonderful thing that will be, when it occurs. A good example is the word “wudu” — it *was* the English word for “wood”(forest), but after a few hundred years the tail -u started to get pronounced as a simple “uh” sound instead as an “oo” and the scribes started to be confused about how to write it, so they wrote “wude” or “wode.” Then, after a few hundred more years, people stopped pronouncing the last -e “uh” sound and now the word is pronounced and spelled “wood.” Yet, I doubt you spend a lot of time lamenting how “wood” is a corrupted form of English, right?

    Don’t get too attached to quicksand structures and tribalism, but take joy in an ingenious, ever-mutating and ingenious language, and the beauty that springs from something that is alive but not quite, changing as we change through the centuries. Getting bitter about this when there are very real “bad things” out there is just wasting your precious time and emotional energy when there are so many other worthy things to care about.

    Wes þu hal! (Fare thee well)

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