Thursday, June 27, 2013

Things were really, really better when I was a kid

I saw a wonderful video today which had an interesting illustration of a speech by Stephen Fry.  He talks about language and how people spend a lot of time and energy tearing down others who use language in an 'improper' way.  He has no patience for this; as long as the meaning is clear then there is no reason to be pedantic about split infinitives, sentences ended with prepositions, 'misuse' of less / fewer, or other common complaints.  Most of the time it is just a way to take a crap on people who have had less formal education or who did not learn English as their primary language and linguistic elitism really isn't a cause I can get behind.

It goes back to my rant last week about how people really want to justify the world they grew up in being perfect.  Their teachers back then slammed the rules of grammar into their heads and they want to do the same to others to feel better and more intelligent.  There is a certain rush people get from being the best informed person in a situation that is mostly derived from other people feeling inferior.  Leetspeak, while it can be confusing to someone who is not familiar, is actually a much more sane and reasonable way to write in most cases.  Through really should be thru, you should be u, and lulz is a perfectly fine concept.  However, because these things were not around back in the day it gets people up in arms when they are used.  If we change how we speak then anything could change; I might have to rethink my positions on things!  Madness!

Fry also talks a bit about job interviews and other similar situations where people in a position of authority have an expectation of specific speech usage.  I am a bit torn on this one; while I recognize that the ability to control one's speech patterns or to speak in a formal fashion is a useful skill an employer might want it is frustrating that the lack of those things is so often used to dismiss a candidate as unintelligent, untrustworthy, or uneducated.  I certainly alter my speech patterns depending on who I am talking to, as we all do.  I don't swear as much when talking to my grandmother as I do when playing poker with the boys, for example, and I naturally speak very formally in an interview situation.  I want both to be able to wield the English language proficiently and also not have others be degraded because they cannot do so to the same extent; this is probably impossible.

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