English Language Essays - Media and English

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History of English: The media and English.

In spite of the popular notion that the media are'ruining English', this is not the case. Media effects on language are shortterm.

There arevarious ways of studying language: a linear route which covers historicaldevelopment through time, known as diachronic, and a synchronic route whichaims to study the complexities involved in how languages actually work(Shetter, 2002, Page 1). This synchronic route can be studied in two ways:written language and language that is relayed in the form of speech, known asphonology, the latter being one area affected during language change.Orthography also alters over time and there is also a pronounced effect onlexis, semantics, and orthography. Evolving language has its roots in variousfactors, notwithstanding both internal and external history (Leith, 1996).Linguistics, grammar and vocabulary are directly attributable to the effects ofinternal history whilst it could be possible to ascribe the socio-linguisticaspects of language to the external exigencies of history.

It is importantto note that English was not a unified language initially, but the result ofthe Germanic influence from various Teutonic dialects. The original languagespoken on the British Islands was Brittonic and there are differing opinions asto whether Brittonic became incorporated into the Anglo-Saxon language or not(Collingwood and Myers, 1936, Page 318) with research continuing to be dividedas to the reason for this. The language spoken by the indigenous Britons atthe time the Anglo-Saxons first arrived in Britain was a form of Celtic, knownas Brittonic.

This essaytraces the development of English along a diachronic route whilst investigatingthe effects of the media synchronically. It begins with a discussion on OldEnglish then investigates lexical diffusion and the Great Vowel Change, boththe results of developments in society as towns begin to develop. The essaythen focuses on contemporary English and the effect the media has had on itsdevelopment, clearly showing in the process that, rather than having adetrimental effect on English, it has ultimately provided the tool for itssurvival and ultimately for its development as a lingua franca.


Development of Old English

...the breakdown of inflections owes as much to processes of contactbetween speakers of different languages as it does to pressures of a purelyinternal kind (Leith, 1996, Page120).

As theinflectional change became integrated into contemporary usage, switchreferenced utterances evolved into articles, prepositions, conjunctions andpronouns, with no set order to a sentence, i.e. any word could occupy anyposition without altering the context of the utterance prior to the generalacceptance of grammatical devices (Coates, 2004).

It has beensuggested that from about AD 597 Christian missionaries arrived in Britain andcontributed their Latin to the evolving English language, providing around 450words into common usage (Crystal, 2003), whilst some parts of Britain weresubject to Danelaw until around the early part of the 11th Century with manyDanish words passing into northern English dialects especially, and providingan influence for many diectics, such as they, them, and their, together withthe verb 'to be' correlating with 'are'. Additional influences were associatedwith the arrival of the French in 1066 and became absorbed into the Englishlanguage over the next few hundred years and continued to evolve through tradewith other nations from the 16th Century onwards, incorporating innumerable newwords from countries such as Africa, India, Australia and the Americas throughthe development of the Commonwealth.

Lexical Diffusion

Somelinguists argue that the Old English inflectional system was inefficient andwas, therefore, as the linguist Roger Lass has argued, 'ripe forre-modelling'. Speakers themselves start to regularise the paradigmsdeletingendings (Leith, David, 1996, Page 118).

From the end ofthe 12th Century Guilds came to be formed as trade flourished with the resultthat the styles of both lexis and orthography changed to meet the need,together with punctuation which developed in accordance with particularrequirements for business documents and, as a result, Old English began to giveway to a new form of language, the Middle English which was characterised,amongst other things by differences in intonation and stress on the language'sphonology leading to the Great Vowel Shift which occurred over a period of timefrom around 1400 to 1700, pronunciation becoming almost comparable with thevowels of today. The changes in pronunciation coincide with the growth intowns and cities and the gradual change in focus from the countryside, with aninflux of different dialects from places such as Norfolk and the North towardsLondon, with a corresponding unification of pronunciation, described as lexicaldiffusion (Chambers and Trudghill, 1991, Chapter 7).

Significantly,the introduction of the printing press coincided with this influx, a situationdescribed as destined to revolutionise the availability of information incivilised society. The political and educational consequences of this newtechnology will be profound (Harris and Taylor, 1996, pp. 1 - 69). Thisperception, perhaps was related to the need to provide a standardised dialectin order to print books and Caxton chose the dialect prevalent in London nearthe location of his printing press, coinciding with the cultural andsociological moves towards a more secular society.

Most ofthe hobgoblins of contemporary prescriptive grammar (don't split infinitives,don't end a sentence with a preposition) can be traced back to theseeighteenth-century fads (Pinker, 1994, p. 374).

Following theReformation and England's break with the Roman Catholic Church Latin fell outof favour and learning came to be conducted in a standardised form of Englishwith prescriptive grammar developing to reflect the prestige of the greatClassical scholars. Language learning became dependent upon the teaching ofgrammar in a deductive manner, heavily reliant on the use of grammatical rulesrealised through translation, with prescriptive grammars based on the rules ofLatin (Pinker, 1994, p. 374) which did not always fit too well with the moreamorphous usage of English, an example being the concept of the 'splitinfinitive' from the Latin which was carried over into English until the lastfew years. Pinker suggests that the very fact that they [prescriptiverules]..have to be drilled shows that they are alien to the natural workings ofthe language system (Pinker, 1994, p. 372).

Although aconsidered a sign of erudition, a perfect translation from Latin or Greek intothe English vernacular established itself as the definitive method of languageteaching until the 20th Century, it has been suggested that instruction intothe rules of grammar have resulted in learners being unable to transfer thisknowledge to talk about themselves in a real-life setting (McDonough and Shaw,1993, p. 21). As a result a disparity emerged between the Sciences and theArts with Latin retained for nomenclature within the Sciences and a greateremphasis on the vernacular in the Arts, elucidated by Leith and Graddol whosuggested that Literary English seeking synonyms in order to providealternative forms of expression (eloquence), science required a precise andstandardised language (Leith and Graddol, 1996,p. 176).

Simon Jenkins,previously editor to 'The Times' (London) is not a follower of what heconsiders useless paraphernalia. He refers to the precision of theClassical languages which 'require little punctuation', giving, as his example,the American Constitution as beautifully structured and controlled (Davis,The Times, 2004), despite the fact that the American Constitution was modelledon the language of the Legal Jurists of 18th Century Britain, and the Greeksepitomised the comma: even the Greeks needed to breathe when reading:

Lastly, to deal with a veryunimportant point, I observe that the Leipsic Teubner edition of 894 makesBooks ii. and iii. end with a comma

(The Odyssey by Homer, http://www.classicauthors.net/Homer/odyssey/)

Contemporary English

The growth ofthe middle classes and public school education became the driver for the growthin Received Pronunciation , whilst colonisation and foreign travel imposed theEnglish language onto new cultures, with many of those colonised languagesbecoming integrated into the English language, often resulting in BritishEnglish and American English becoming intermingled by the media, and computervocabulary and text-messaging increasing everyday vocabulary with words such asWISIWYG and mouse, internet and monitor, and changes in spelling such as TXTU L8TER. Strong feelings are invoked when discussing the use, or values, ofteaching anything other than contemporary literature, written in the vernacular(Gilbert, 2001) and the teaching of English grammar is even more emotive(Hirsch, 2001). The Mobile Data Association claims that text messaging ('Thegr8 txt msg boom', Daily Mail, 2005: 25) is expected to reach 30 billion, 20%higher than in 2004.

The growth ofstandardised estuary English has been the result of many years' radio andtelevision transmissions across the nation, together with other technologicalequipment such as films, telephones, video and audio recordings and thedevelopment of the internet. Whilst media might, at one time, have beenperceived to have been ruining the English language, public opinion seems to becoming full circle, although the effect of the 'soap culture' might beattributing to intonation change and deviations in accent although Byrne inMcDonough and Shaw (1993: 184) believes that communication involves more thanjust the 'tenets of speech'.

In the pastexplicit grammar teaching was the norm, and the accepted way of teachingEnglish within schools. This started to decline during the 1960s with acorresponding increase in media transmissions through the growth of popularmusic and increased television, although the media, in itself, need not takeultimate responsibility for the decrease in standards of English. Until theintroduction of the National Curriculum, many children went through the wholeof their school lives with little, if any, grammar instruction and left schoolwith little understanding about the language they spoke. Conversely, thiscoincided with a greater acceptability of regional dialects and less emphasison the need to speak 'standard English', which can only be an advantage intoday's multi-lingual, heterogeneous, cultural environment.

Concern aboutdeterioration in teaching standards resulted in the introduction of theNational Curriculum into schools. This attempted to address those concernsover falling criteria, with the effect that schoolchildren do get to gripswith commas, colons and all the rest (Davis, The Times, 2004). The NationalCurriculum has also addressed the fact that England's multicultural mix ofpupils was simply not being served by the old syllabi (Gilbert, 2001). Manystudies over the years have resulted in positive feedback to explicit grammarteaching, with research also revealing that suitable grammar instructionachieves a positive outcome on learning as a general process.

Politicalcorrectness in recent years is beginning to evoke credulity with the extent towhich it has affected the English language: Enid Blyton and Agatha Christiehave both had titles of their books altered due to perceived offence in theiroriginal books which were written many years before Political Correctness hadeven been dreamed up, whilst Lynn Truss (2003), who wrote 'Eats, Shoots andLeaves' is described as a 'stickler rather than a pedant' in her pursuit ofthe mysteries of the semicolon, the dash and the e-mailer's all-purposefavourite, the ellipsis (Davis, The Times, 2004).

The novel by MsTruss evoked further emotion in Ron Liddle who also wrote for 'The Times'(Davis, The Times, 2004). He comments on the class distinction associated withthe pursuit of correct English, describing it as middle-class and smug,particularly relevant when considered in relation to the intentions of theNational Curriculum's inclusion strategy. Hirsch, writing in the 'NewStatesman' comments on various studies but considers that, overall, the schoolswith the 'most advantaged pupil intakes not those with the best teachers'appear to have achieved the most (Hirsch, 2001), which he considers a furtherexample of class distinction. This can be balanced by looking at the etymologyof the word 'punctuation' which shares a common root with the word'punctilious' meaning 'attentive to formality or etiquette' (Oxford IllustratedDictionary, 1984).

Controversycontinues into whether punctuation [is] the basting that holds the fabric oflanguage in shape (Truss, 2003), or whether there has been a 'slide towardsmediocrity' in the standard of English taught in the National Curriculum. Despitethe rudiments of grammar not being taught to a generation of children (Davis,The Times, 2004), the English language has now been classed as one of theworld's major languages, and is spoken by approximately 1.6 billion peopleworld-wide. At least 380 million categorising English as their mother tongue(Crystal, 2003: Ch. 1; Tyson-Ward, 2001: 8). English is the official statelanguage in a number of countries.

English is nowuniversally regarded as a lingua franca where punctuation should be considereda courtesy designed to help readers to understand a story without stumbling(Truss, 2003). English has become the acknowledged language of science, tradeand business and the official language of air traffic world-wide, causing theFrench government to introduce legislation to prevent the erosion of the Frenchlanguage (Fishman, 1998, Professor Emeritus). An estimate of 50 millionInternet users now converse in English and nine-tenths of the world'selectronically stored information is in English (Griffith, 2003: 9) withEnglish being described as the '21st century sequel of colonialism' or'linguistic imperialism' (Fishman, 1998).


We cannot yet specify satisfactorily just what we meanby a 'perfect' language

(Aitchison,1991, pp. 214)

The problem thatoccurred with Latin was the very nature of its precision: its prescriptive dispositionand closed vocabulary precluded any possibility of change. Fortunately, asDavis observes, the English language is an ever-evolving beast (TheTimes, 2004), with the result that the global supply of and the demand forEnglish instruction are exploding (Fishman, 1998). Davis reports,however, that grammarians are at each other's throats. The emphasisnowadays has to be on educational diversity and challenging racism. One of themost salient points in the National Curriculum's favour is in providing anenvironment that focuses on establishing appreciation of 'aspects of culturaldifference, context and change, while challenging and extending perceptions' inrespect of 'themselves and other people'.

The media doesnot refer simply to journalists writing newspaper accounts that deride 'pureEnglish', but relates to all modes of transmission from internet, radio,television, video, audio, and any other source that has the ability to transmitinformation. We live in an information-rich world and today, the media isresponsible for much that is taught in schools. English studies can resort toall of these media to inspire learning besides the rich tapestry of stories,poetry and non-fiction and exploring the cultural diversity of drama andresearch into works by contemporary writers of different traditions andcultures. With the focus on English in a global context, teachers are free toinclude grammar and literature whilst also reaffirming the value of Englishstudies. The emphasis today is so much on the spread and usage of the Englishlanguage that immense value has been placed upon the teaching of it world-wideand, of necessity, this can only be achieved through strategic use of all formsof media.

Diversity ofmedia is now utilised as a fundamental teaching aid, not only in the rudimentsof English within the National Curriculum, but as an essential requirement towithin the global marketplace. This is reflected within education, and is alsoreplicated within the context of a world-wide employment market (Seltzer, 1999)covering scientific, technical and business spheres, together with employmentwithin the IT sectors, higher education and even encompassing air trafficcontrol, law and the movement of commodities between trading nations. Throughthe dissemination of information the value of English has truly become areflection of the global economy, with usage deeply and possibly,irretrievably, entrenched within the greatest markets and powers of the world,utilising the diversity of media sources around the world to maximum effect.


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