The decline of the English language

As well as writting for this blog, I also write the occasional review for a website called qype. In fact you’ve probably seen some of the reviews cross posted here. I like qype as it gives a view of somewhere that isn’t normally seen: that of a member of the public. Any one can join and write reviews. Which can be a problem.

Reading the reviews on the site (and to some extent other websites and blogs) has got me thinking. Is the English language (and its grammar, spelling and punctuation in particular) experiencing a decline in standards? I realise that my English, nor probably that of the majority of English speakers, is perfect, even if it is my native tongue. I also accept that my typing is also far from perfect – I do try to use the right words and spellings, it’s that at times my fingers do their own thing! However, looking around the internet, I have noticed a real preponderance of bad spelling, homophones and other wrong words, and a general lack of grammar and punctuation.

Just look at this example:

“great place to learn golf by their expert. 18 hole golf course and dress code is on.”*

Is it really hard to start a sentence with a capital letter? And just what does “dress code is on” mean?

And how about this:

“i’m not really a fan of this peacocks as the shop is cramped when you try and look around and the security guard always follows almost all of the younger people around like they are trying to steal something!”*

Wow! Now that’s what I call a sentence, it’s nearly a paragraph in itself. And that’s before you look at the grammar in it.

And don’t forget the humble apostrophe. The number of times I see it in the wrong place, or not even there, is amazing. And why do people use the ampersand instead of writing “and”? It’s only two extra characters and looks so much better.

So what’s causing this lowering of standards? I believe it’s two fold. Firstly, there’s less emphasis being placed on teaching the correct way to the English language, particularly in it’s written form. I know when I was at school thirty-odd years ago, we weren’t taught about split infinitives, but at least we were told when to use capital letters and punctuation. In fact it was only after I left school that I found out why Captain Kirk was wrong when he said his mission was “to boldly go…”!

The second factor is down to mobile phones. Or more precisely text messaging. Trying to fit a coherent message in to a limited number of characters can be quite hard, so a whole language of abbreviations has developed. Now I can understand using them in the correct context, i.e. in text messages, but appear to have become acceptable no in ordinary, everyday written work.

So what can we do? Should we do anything?

I believe we should defend this language of ours. I accept that it has grown over hundreds, if not thousands, of years in to what it is today, and that it is an organic language. I accept that to survive it will need to develop and evolve in the future. But in the meantime we should maintain the basics. If the basics are allowed to lapse then ambiguity can arise. And that in turn debases the value of the language. It’s bad enough having two or more different means for the same spelling (live or read for example), but it’s normally possible to distinguish between them when used in a sentence. But if we allow poor grammar, spelling and punctuation to proliferate then understanding and communication will become almost impossible.

And I realise that there’s a difference between a formal piece of writing (such as a letter to a prospective employer, or a book) and an informal piece (such as a letter to a friend or a blog post). Whilst I would expect a higher standard of grammatical correctness in the formal piece, a lower, more acceptable standard can be applied to the informal. However this lower, informal standard should at least conform to the basic rules. I don’t for example expect everyone to enforce the rule of not splitting infinitives. After all, I’ve probably split a few in this article. But please use capital letters and punctuation.

So please use the language correctly, and if you see others making mistakes, considering pointing it out to them. Politely of course. And if there are any errors in this piece, please accept my humble apologies, I’m only human after all.

*These are real examples taken from qype. They have not been edited, they really do start with lower case letters!

3 Responses to “The decline of the English language”

  1. standardman Says:


  2. Seamus Hughes Says:

    Too much texting, too little spelling and emphasisi on English grammar in school is making it harder to find people who write well let alone speak well.

  3. Allan Says:

    Hey, language evolves!
    Down thru the centuries the elders hav lamented the youngers part in the ‘decline’ of the language. Get over it!
    I suggest the apostrofe is not needed in riting, except for missing letters, eg, she’d, not to be confused with shed. We dont use them in speech!
    I tell u that the split infinitive is NOT rong! The argument against it derives from Latin aficionados who knew it was impossible in Latin, so it should be so in English, which has a completely different grammatical structure.
    Spelling would not ‘decline’ so noticeably if it was sensible, regular, predictable, and followed its ‘rules’.

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