Language & Change

I was listening to Word of Mouth on radio4 last night. Word of Mouth was originally devised & presented by Frank Delaney who was very good. These days it is presented by Michael Rosen who is probably even better.

He had David Crystal on last night who used to appear regularly on the programme in the Frank Delaney days.

They were discussing textspeak & texts, e-mails & so on. At one stage they said that we are reaching the stage where people never read anything longer than 15 words. 150; good grief, can this be true? What is happening? On the basis of 10 words a line that is 5 lines. After all people do read books, don’t they. On the tube I see people busily occupied reading books both in the traditional form with paper & pages & so on as well as the electronic form.

Myself I have never used a kindle. But I can see the advantages. It might be easier for all I know to read from it. I certainly don’t have problems reading from a computer screen. I don’t read as many books as would like. My favourite book is Master & Margarita by Bulgakov, the only white Russian which Stalin tolerated. Stalin probably didn’t understand Bulgakov’s writing. I do read other books but not as many as I would like. But like everybody else these days, the question, where is the time?

Maybe there is an intellectual wealth divide. Maybe the intelligent are becoming more intelligent, the stupid more stupid. I have no hard evidence. After all the illiteracy rate has always been quite high in this country & there are people, perhaps many people who leave school apparently having learned nothing. I don’t know what the yardstick is for literacy these days. In the 1980s it was being able to read the Daily Mirror cover to cover. Many people I meet don’t seem to know the rudiments of the language. Even today, people use double negatives, they split infinitives, people use the word get where another word be better, people say jealous when they mean envious, train station when they mean railway station, computer when they mean commuter. In the Observer, the only newspaper I pay for, words are often misused.

Is there an intellectual wealth divide? Who knows? I think it might well be true. For the majority of people living in London, English is not their first language, which explains much.

Does it matter? Language changes. Words change their meaning, words used several hundred years ago come back into vogue. The word hassle for example was resurrected in the seventies or eighties & is still used occasionally.

The rate of change since World War II has been breakneck. In my lifetime, apartheid has collapsed, communism in the Soviet Union has collapsed. East & Central Europe & China has seen the rise & fall of socialism. The internet has changed everything. Invented at Los Alamos when the Atom Bomb was being developed, it became part of popular culture in the 1990s, now we can’t imagine what our lives would be without it. What would we be without mobile phones? Both mobile phones & the internet have been to a large extent responsible for the change in language for many new acronyms, many new abbreviations. I don’t use them myself but when I am sent them, normally I understand the meaning.

There are so many different ways of acquiring information which is all that matters. Stories, novels, films, soaps, they are all part of the collective unconscious. We share myths & dreams. We share religions. We climb over metaphorical barriers into the subconscious when we are asleep dreaming. We are bombarded with information. We are bombarded with advertisements.

Our minds & brains & our very being are just bombarded

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