The further decline of English
Technology is leading to the total breakdown in the use of English. Or something.
The Greeks were aghast at the idea of introducing the
technologies of reading and writing into the curriculum of their time.
In a passage from one of his famous
"Dialogues," Plato quotes Socrates: "The discovery of the alphabet will
create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use
their memories; they will trust to the external characters and not
remember of themselves."
Greek students were supposed to
memorize what they had heard as they sat around listening to learned
teachers who held forth in the schools of that time. And indeed they
could remember, because this type of education resulted in the
development of exceptional mnemonic skills. There were no books or
other memory crutches.
An educated Greek could recite a
two- or three-hour poem or play from memory. Socrates was afraid that
being able to write things down and read them later would dumb down the
whole process and make people mentally lazy.
Socrates lost, of course, and
reading and writing won the day. But he was also right; most of us
today cannot remember all 15 of our phone numbers let alone a short
soliloquy from Shakespeare. Once we’re much past kindergarten Dad is
sick of reading “James and the Giant Peach” to use for the hundredth
time; after that we get about one shot at each story we read. So we
But some (including me at times)
complain that writing itself is degenerating as it mirrors the
every-changing argot of the common person, as if there is some gold
standard that statically defines a language for all time. Though the
French Academy tries to keep their language in some sort of stasis,
most of us accept the evolution of language over time.
But change is hard, and each
generation seems to believe their version of English is the correct
one. Email has devolved the language at a rapid pace; IMO this is fine;
IIRC all generations change the way we express ourselves. LOL.
My father, chief constable of the
grammar police, took umbrage to one of my recent emails that used a
couple of ‘net acronyms. His responded that the outrage I’d perpetrated
on the English language would surely lead to a general deterioration in
the level of written discourse.
That reminded me of a quote from my
favorite movie of all time. Topsy Turvy is about the making of Gilbert
& Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” and is set in 1895. Gilbert’s
cantankerous and very muttonchoped father scoffs at his son’s use of
the newly-invented telephone, sniffing that “it will only lead to the
further erosion of the English language.”
Clearly the grumpy old man of 1895 was wrong. As is my dad.
But not me. Those damn kids sending
IM messages devoid of punctuation and capitalization are leading to
the, uh, further breakdown of the English language.
What do you think? Can you recite
any bit of literature from memory? r u .;) w/ IM’s 4matting? We already
have a bilingual president; will the nation be trilingual (English,
Spanish and fast e-typing) soon?
Jack G. Ganssle is a
lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts
seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded
challenges. Contact him at email@example.com. His website is www.ganssle.com.
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