Thursday, May 31, 2007

Undermining English

John Leo has written an excellent piece in City Journal on the importance of language and various trends that are undermining it.

The point about academic gibberish is particularly well-taken. It is reminiscent of an anecdote from Richard Feynman. Feynman attended an event at which many intellectuals from different fields discussed various issues. His group passionately debated an issue for a while, and rebuffed his effort to define the terms being discussed. Eventually, it became clear that nobody knew what they were talking about!

Anyone who doubts the existence of cultural Marxism should pay attention to this passage.

Grammar and clear expression are under another kind of attack as well. Rules, good writing, and simple coherence are sometimes depicted as habits of the powerful and privileged. James Sledd, professor emeritus of English at the University of Texas, writes in the textbook College English that standard English is “essentially an instrument of domination.” If proper English is oppressive, what could be more logical than setting out to undermine it? English Leadership Quarterly ran an article urging teachers to encourage intentional writing errors as “the only way to end its oppression of linguistic minorities and learning writers.” The pro-error article, written by two professors at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, actually won an award from the quarterly, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English. So you can now win awards for telling the young to write badly.

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