Sunday, February 6, 2011

The English language - I hardly recognize it anymore

Over the past 50 years, I have developed a distinct fondness for the English language. I have devoted a great deal of time and trouble to learning it, and I try to use it as accurately as possible. I’m not always successful, but I try.

I should probably stop trying. I'm giving myself a cramp.

Call me a snob about this issue. I really don't care. All I know is that it bugs the life out of me to see a generation emerging who do not know how to speak it, write it, or in too many cases, read it. The emphasis on grammar and spelling is gone out of the schools. “As long as they can get their thoughts across, and the spelling is close enough that it lets you know what the word is, then that’s good enough”, is what I hear from some ‘educators’, and I use the term loosely.

A true educator would never tolerate the abuse and misuse of the language that is seen today.

People want to emphasize something? They capitalize it -

“I Am So Upset Today. I Broke A Nail.”

“I Won Ten Dollars On The Lottery Last Night.”

Who in hell taught these people to emphasize their points like that? Who? It looks ridiculous. Capitalization is supposed to be used at the beginning of sentences, and for proper nouns, not to emphasize a point.

Then there is the abuse of punctuation marks. For example, question marks are interchanged with exclamation points routinely.

“Come to the conference, and meet our special guest? “

This is not a question. It’s a statement. And, if added emphasis is needed, an exclamation point is fine here, but it’s not a question! How often do I see this happening?!?! (See? There are even times when both exclamation points and question marks are appropriate!)

And then there's the use of 'of', as in, "I could of gone to my friend's house, but I didn't have a ride." It's not "could of". It's "could have"!!! People assume, I guess, that the contraction 'could've' is short for 'could of', because that's the way it sounds. It's not. It's 'could have'. Same for would have / should have. It's have!!!!

Then there are the two commonly misused groups of words that I will not even touch on here today – ‘two, too & to’, and ‘their, there & they’re’. There are just not enough hours left today for me to do these two topics justice. Oh, and let’s not forget ‘its and it’s’, another common one I see almost daily.

I cheerfully admit that I don’t know a participle from a conjugated verb. Maybe it’s nouns that are conjugated, I have no idea. Predicates are foreign to me. I sort of remember hearing about diphthongs, too, but if God were to strike me dead, I have no idea what they are. Give me an incorrect sentence, though, and I can correct it. I can’t tell you why it’s wrong, but I can tell you what is wrong, and how it should be. For that, I am eternally grateful to some forgotten teacher, but I am also eternally tormented, as well.

If you want to see daily examples of how bad spelling is in our society, and how little corporations care anymore, watch CBC’s Here and Now, every suppertime. You know those captions that they put under people’s images, saying who they are or where they’re from? I challenge you to watch a single entire episode of Here and Now, and not find ONE spelling mistake. It happens every single night. I mean, every night. It’s incredible, but it’s true. I would so love to be a proof-reader at CBC. It would be a very satisfying, albeit busy, job.

Some people are better spellers than others. Whether that's because of how they were taught, or if it's a skill one is born with (or not), well, I don't know. Spelling in informal situations, like emails, notes, etc., doesn't get under my skin in nearly the same way as it does when I watch CBC. It's a multi-million (maybe billion?) taxpayer-funded corporation, whose mandate is to communicate. It's all about the language. (Actually, it's about two languages in CBC's case, but I digress.) If they're in the business of communicating, using our language, then their people ought to know how to spell.

I would really like to know why professional educators, those who develop policies concerning what is taught in schools today, have decided that it is no longer necessary for the English-speaking world to be literate anymore. Sentence structure, punctuation, spelling, grammar – gone.

I’ve heard the excuse that spelling isn’t being taught because now, there is spell check. Uh, wrong!! Spell check is of absolutely no use, when it comes to words like write and right. What’s the use of having a correctly spelled, yet incorrect word? We, as the humans among the machines, should know the difference. It’s a terrible thing that we do not know, and seemingly couldn’t care less.

Time is not being taken to teach these concepts anymore; that much is clear. This begs the question, what are teachers teaching these days?

It’s not geography. Everyone is all up in arms about what is going on in Afghanistan and Egypt these days, but most of us couldn’t find either country on an unmarked map. (…or on a marked map, come to that.)

It’s not history. The lack of knowledge that Newfoundlanders have concerning how we ended up in Confederation is appalling. It was an era so rife with underhanded dealings and dishonesty that it was probably thought best to ensure it was forgotten. Too few Newfoundlanders know anything, either, about the influence and contributions of American servicemen who were stationed here before, during and since WWII. Newfoundland owes its power grid to the Americans, did you know that? If you did, you didn’t learn it in school. Newfoundlanders would probably be less critical of Americans if they only knew for what they should be thanking them.

I don’t know what they’re teaching, but there is ample evidence that their emphasis is not on the English language.

How’s that for a sentence containing ‘there’, they’re’ and ‘their’?!?! It wasn’t hard to do, and didn’t hurt a bit! It's becoming a rare skill, though, all the same.

Oh well, maybe Shakespeare said the same in his day. Shakespearean English is almost unreadable without one of those rarities, an English teacher, on speed-dial. He's probably spinning in his grave, listening to even the most linguistically-skilled among us. Probably the same will be true in another 400 years. The English speakers of the 25th century won't have a clue what we have been saying! It's almost a sure thing, because some days, with some people, I don't have a clue what they're saying now!


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