People often complain that English is deteriorating under the influence of new technology, adolescent fads and loose grammar. Why does this nonsensical belief persist?
The 21st century seems to present us with an ever-lengthening list of perils: climate crisis, financial meltdown, cyber-attacks. Should we stock up on canned foods in case the ATMs snap shut? Buy a shedload of bottled water? Hoard prescription medicines? The prospect of everything that makes modern life possible being taken away from us is terrifying. We would be plunged back into the middle ages, but without the skills to cope.
Now imagine that something even more fundamental than electricity or money is at risk: a tool we have relied on since the dawn of human history, enabling the very foundations of civilisation to be laid. I’m talking about our ability to communicate – to put our thoughts into words, and to use those words to forge bonds, to deliver vital information, to learn from our mistakes and build on the work done by others.
The doomsayers admit that this apocalypse may take some time – years, or decades, even – to unfold. But the direction of travel is clear. As things stand, it is left to a few heroic individuals to raise their voices in warning about the dangers of doing nothing to stave off this threat. “There is a worrying trend of adults mimicking teen-speak. They are using slang words and ignoring grammar,” Marie Clair, of the Plain English Campaign, told the Daily Mail. “Their language is deteriorating. They are lowering the bar. Our language is flying off at all tangents, without the anchor of a solid foundation.”
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