Sunday, June 7, 2009

On the Simplification of the English Language

Over time, as proved by the existence of the fixed and written word, we have watched the English language change. It has merged, it has shifted, it has shortened itself, and it has achieved a more systematic method than ever before as knowledge becomes more and more achievable through sources like the Internet.

Take a look back at books that are widely known: Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice, and of course, my personal favorite, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Examine the writing and you will see vocabulary of an exemplary nature, punctuation usage that is far ranging, and quite simply put: shows us what has changed in our language over the century.

One of the primary drivers of this change is the breakdown of genre, and targeting audiences for reading level. In the early part of the century this could never have been achieved, and thus to read a book required the reader to advance themselves to the level necessary for reading the desired piece of writing.

I'll make no solid statement as to whether this fundamental change has been a good or bad thing -- targeting a reading level is certainly beneficial on a number of fronts. Schools have an easier time assigning reading to specific age groups, publishers have an easier time marketing to a specific population, and writers can write in a range of styles and complexities and still sell the simpler works. Heck, those younger reading level books sell like hotcakes.

But what if we're doing a disservice by breaking down the writing to simpler form? Is it preventing younger readers from pushing themselves hard enough to read more complex writing? Are our children even capable of doing so in this day and age? We see each year, changes in the younger generations' ability to speak with expanded vocabulary, and with an increase in text messaging and shortened "acronymical" words like g2g, lol, ttyl, bff; it's very feasible that the English language will only continue to be simplified and mutilated in a widespread way.

I'd love to hear thoughts. As you might have guessed by questions posed in this and former blogs: I prefer interactive discussion, so comment away. Good night.

Terry Tibke

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