Is English deteriorating?

These folks seem to think so. How many do you agree with? (Uhm, I mean, with how many do you agree?) Sources are at the end of the list.

  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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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...

  6. Our language is degenerating very fast.

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

The Punchline:

Only the first three quotes are from this century!

  1. A. Tibbets and C. Tibbets, What's Happening to American English?, 1978
  2. cited by J. Mersand, Attitudes toward English Teaching, 1961
  3. C. H. Ward, 1917
  4. M. W. Smith, "Methods of Study in English," 1889
  5. Captain Thomas Hamilton, 1833
  6. James Beattie, 1785
In fact...
The earliest language "crisis" ... that I have been able to discover occurred in ancient Sumeria .... It seems that among the first of the clay tablets discovered and deciphered by modern scholars was one which recorded the agonized complaints of a Sumerian teacher about the sudden drop-off in students' writing ability.
Daniels, p. 33, citing Richard Lloyd-Jones, "Is Writing Worse Nowadays?" University of Iowa Spectator, April 1976.

So, what's the story with English? Daniels again (p. 86):

...our language cannot "die" as long as people speak it...

...language change is a healthy and inevitable process...

...all human languages are rule-governed, ordered, and logical...

...variations between different groups of speakers are normal and predictable...

...all speakers employ a variety of speech forms and styles in response to changing social settings...

...most of our attitudes about language are based upon social rather than linguistic judgments...

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