Professor Simon Horobin, an English professor at Oxford university, has been addressing the Hay Festival. According to the Daily Telegraph, there were gasps of shock from the audience as his speech proceeded. He included gems like “People like to artificially constrain language change. For some reason we think spelling should be entirely fixed and never changed. I am not saying we should just spell freely, but sometimes we have to accept spellings change.”
Let us try to turn a blind eye to the split infinitive, and focus on some of the points made in the speech:
- Apostrophe use should be more widely discussed. What a sensible point. Discussing things spreads knowledge. If more of us were aware of how to use an apostrophe that would save a lot of stress, ambiguity, & argument. Then we can use that time on something more constructive.
- Is the apostrophe so crucial to the preservation of our society? Well no, but like many other non essentials it helps to oil the wheels.
- It was not sacrilegious to suggest that “they’re”, “their”, “there” could be spelt in the same way. Passing over the abuse of the term sacrilegious, the fundamental problem here is that they all mean different things. If we are following the professor’s logic, why not spell pork, bacon, gammon & ham the same way. They are all pig meat.
- “Thru” or “lite” might not be such a sin. In a sensible context of course they aren’t. Both forms are useful in texts & tweets, but isn’t it good to retain a spectrum of communication? More formal context needs proper language. Perhaps the next formal letter I write to a stranger I should start “Hi there!” & finish “Bye for now”. Somehow I doubt if that would get a favourable response.
- Those who study Middle English have found 500 different spellings of “through”, including drowgh, trowffe, trghug, & yhurght. So we have made progress since then. We have standardised the language so we can think more about what is being said & less time deciphering what others mean.
It is good for language to develop, but development should lead to progress. Clouding the meaning is a step backwards.
English is a beautiful language. Why do we accept changes that add nothing & make it ugly?
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