Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Written Word

A while ago I did a post about the correct use of English.  This is a link to a similar discussion about the correct use of French.  Why do I take an interest in French if the focus of my blog is on English? Well, in case you haven't noticed or are unfamiliar with the similarities in spelling between many words in English and French (also Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian), about 40% of the lexicon of English comes from French.

To my French-speaking students, the français in English doesn't sound like French but is clearly recognizable in written form.  The examples are numerous: déjà vu, R.S.V.P., rendezvous, sensible, sensitive, à la mode, au pair, de rigueur, unique, and so on... More will be said about the faux amis in English or the "false friends" (words that are spelled identically in French and English, but which have different meanings in the two languages).

However, the point of this post is to indicate that no matter which language you speak, there is a weakening of scrupulous editing by publicists, journalists, and writers.  Does it have to do with the ephemeral nature of written words today?  In the not-so-distant past, the written word literally had weight or tangibility in a hard-covered, bound, paper book and a quality of lastingness...

In the "old days", some very early written words were tediously stamped into clay by hand-held tools, and in the 15th century, the Gutenberg press (with little pieces of movable type) came into use.  In the past, people needed to be more careful to choose the best reporters, keen-eyed editors, and meticulous printers to ensure accuracy of the stories reported or told as well as of the language used. In those days, we viewed writings as permanent records or literary art.  Today, our words get posted on the Internet, put into some virtual storage area - "clouds" even - along with all manner of digital videos, photographs, and musical materials.  Everyone is a writer (including me!), but is the quality of our written words improving?  Do we even understand how or why our writing is changing?  

2 comments:

Tools For English said...

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manyenglishes said...

Thanks for the link to Tools for English. I've checked it out, and there are some additional very useful functions for creating your own English language exercises. It's great that teachers and students have a variety of online tools to choose from.