U R now entering an evolutionary debate

I don’t know have much expertise in the scientific debate about evolution, but  I do feel absolutely certain in concluding that languages evolve, and they usually evolve toward simplicity.

niteTo most 21st-century readers, Shakespeare is somewhat comprehensible, Chaucer is rarely comprehensible, and Beowulf is incomprehensible (OK, George Will’s columns and Beck’s “Loser” can seem incomprehensible at times, too, but that’s a different evolutionary discussion).

Even while I teach students the nuances of Associated Press style (is it website or Web site?), I’m aware that if a majority of them continue making the same mistakes — especially spelling and grammatical mistakes — those common mistakes eventually will evolve into correct usage. I already sense that the who/whom battle is over and whom lost. I do not fear ain’t, but I do fear that they will become an acceptable pronoun reference for everyone. Everyone does it because they can’t seem to distinguish between singular and plural nouns and pronouns.

On one side of the teaching debate is a red-pen prescriptive approach that meticulously prescribes to students how language should be used properly. On the other side is a laid-back descriptive approach that merely describes how people commonly use the language. Proponents of the prescriptive approach believe that a language’s evolutionary process is a descent into lower-class linguistic chaos, while supporters of the descriptive approach welcome evolution as a liberating force for more efficient communication.

My own actions suggest I am a fence straddler.  I regularly use a pencil instead of a red pen to grade student papers. Thus, I prescribe correct usage, but I don’t want to record my prescriptions in permanent ink. And now that I have a BlackBerry, my remedial thumbs have become an obstacle to efficiency. They would be happier typing u for you and r for are, but my language arts background won’t allow it — yet.



~ by dbozmedia on September 24, 2009.

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