Friday, 16 October 2009

Straight-talking

Let's go straight into my issues with bad writing: I know, I know; it's perfectly natural for the language to evolve. I just expected that it would take place over a longer period and that it wouldn't become almost a point of pride for people to write - and speak - badly.

The fact is, English is so widely spread that it's no wonder there are hundreds - perhaps even thousands - of different versions spoken around the world. However, the use of dialects and patois is different, in my not so humble opinion, from plain bad grammar, spelling and misuse of words.

So while txtspk and possibly even l33t-speak fulfill a certain need, the use of incorrect terminology and grammar really gets my goat. And, may I ask, what's the point of dumbing down classic works such as Shakespeare or Milton or Austen because it's "too difficult" for today's crop of students to understand? It's the lazy, easy way out, instead of teaching the basics properly.

I'm afraid the dumbing-down of language - the English language, at least - has already gone beyond control. The Bible in text-speak? I may not be religious, but I can appreciate the beauty of the language used in the King James version. Ebonics and l33t-speak make me shudder. And the news that students in the UK (or was it US?) would be allowed to answer test papers in text-speak made me want to cry.

Even worse is the perception from some - including one guy who wrote to me on IOL - that my particularity for good writing is a form of snobbery and elitism. Unfortunately, I find it hard to argue my point because all the carefully thought-out arguments I have mustered while alone and undistracted fly out of my head in the rush of sheer rage that engulfs me at such blatant stupidity.

I'm not saying that everyone has to speak in olde English or never change the language; what bothers me is that the "rules" of the language, the proper use of grammar and spelling that makes English recognisable - and understandable - across the world, are being disregarded so blatantly. Even journalists are falling into the trap, and here I'm not even pointing the finger at those who write in colloquial fashion, since that's merely a style of writing - I'm talking about those who can't grasp the difference between its and it's, or lose and loose. I expect journalists, at the very least, to know the rules, since writing is their very livelihood.

As for the classics, there's a reason they're called classics. Modernising the writing would detract from the message; Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and Agatha Christie, for instance, were such mistresses of subtlety that they could convey a world of meaning with a few well-turned phrases; the beauty and pace of the language lies in its crispness and attention to detail. As for Shakespeare, his message translated perfectly to the screen in Baz Luhrman's version, a modernised rock setting in which the archaic language simply ... fitted.

People may not speak that way in real life - and why should they? - but within the confines of the tale being told, there is no reason to discard the language of the day. Updating the classics for the screen or theatre has been done, and done well; rewriting them simply because people "can't understand" (or are too damn lazy to read them properly) is completely different.

So it's not a matter of communicating in an older fashion, but a matter of dumbing down so that people can understand. And I'm appalled that there is even consideration given to dumbing down of literature; are people so stupid that they can't comprehend proper, if olde, English? Too much attention is given to making life easier so that people don't have to think, as opposed to actually stretching their minds.

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