Is English dead?

Proofreading_and_editing_blog_1Grammarian Nevile Gwynne has said recently that English was a dead language until recently, when it began to come alive.

I suppose whether that is true depends on how one defines a living language.

I always thought that a dead language was no longer used in daily life. Wikipedia lists extinct languages such as Yevanic, otherwise known as Judeo-Greek. I read & understood that list in the language used by everyone around me. Clearly we are not talking about that test.

Anyone who takes the time to compare documents through the ages can see how language has changed. Chaucer writes differently from the committee that wrote the King James bible, the Brontë sisters, or Orwell.

There are many causes for these changes. New cultural influences, better communication, new discoveries and improved technology have all had an effect. Misguided trends for simplification have taken their toll as well. It is rather sad that people who claim that bad grammar is a matter of style do not notice what they are saying about themselves. Technical changes have caused many of the recent changes in our language. We have always needed new words for innovations, like engine, microwave & iPad. But now we have constraints on how we use language as well, for example Twitter’s 140 character limit. I heard a debate on this recently where one participant said Twitter is a good influence on us because it “encourages us to use economy of language”. A phrase that could be reduced from 40 characters 16 by saying it “makes us concise”.

Are we thinking that at some point the language died & was recently revived? If so the rest of us must have missed it. If anyone knows the amazing technique which enabled so many of us to re-learn a whole language without noticing I would be interested to know. I would use the trick to learn another language properly. That would be really useful.

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About The Proof Angel

I am a freelance editor and proofreader. I work with a wide range of clients, from companies to self publishing authors. I can help you to communicate clearly in print or on line by providing a fresh pair of eyes, carrying out a final check, or by suggesting ideas to improve the flow of your message.
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