Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When Did We Lose Our Language?

"I lay it down as a general rule, Harriet, that if a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him....But do not imagine that I want to influence you." - Emma, by Jane Austen

My version:
"Look, Harriet. It's just my opinion but if you're having doubts about the guy, say no. 

"Really, Mr. Collins," cried Elizabeth with some warmth, "you puzzle me exceedingly. If what I have hitherto said can appear to you in the form of encouragement, I know not how to express my refusal in such a way as to convince you of its being one." - Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

My version:
"Seriously, dude," I laughed, "if you think I was leading you on you're a total moron." 

Jane Austen wrote in the early 1800's, which, in the grand scheme of things, wasn't all that long ago, folks.  Especially when you really internalize that the Colosseum was constructed 2,000 years ago and it still stands today.  

So within the last 200 years, how did we manage to completely butcher our language? Why is there such a thing as ebonics? Why do we use slang? When did we start using contractions in effort to save time? Why did we let the romance of our speech slip away?  

How have our manners gotten so lax? Not that long ago, people wouldn't dream of speaking to someone they had not been introduced to.  While these days it's little awkward for a minute or two if your friend forgot to introduce you to someone new, but if they seem like someone you want to meet you'd likely put your hand out and say, "Hi, my name's _____," wouldn't you? 

And so many people don't even know how to write anymore. Now that we have television and internet and "gamer" is an occupation, no one sits around penning thoughtful letters or practices their penmanship.  Don't even get me started about texting;  we hv a lv/ht reltnshp n sometimes i just wnt 2 throw my phone out th win n forget i ever hd 1.  

While the modern half of my brain is thankful for "progress" (certainly not all of it positive change), there is a part of me that longs for a kinder and more respectful society (among other things that I might discuss tomorrow....). 

Sigh. At least we have our movies.      



  1. I still enjoy handwriting letters as my wrist allows. I love your interpretation of each of these they had me giggling. I love words like awesomesauce, monsterlicious, and other crazy things but I did love the old language and still do!

  2. lol...your version has merit, too.

    And I'm going to play devil's advocate for a moment, but is it possible that there were just as many "dude" writers and certainly "dude" speakers back in Jane's time, but their works just haven't stood the test of time? I don't know the answer to that. I just wonder.

    But, yes, I agree...bring back some gentility!

  3. It is crazy to see what has happened to the world. I saw some valentine chocolate boxes at the store with text message words on the top and i about fell over. Really?

  4. It's so true! *pines for Jane Austen dialogue* We must be on the same wavelength because I posted about writing letters too.

  5. This is so true... What happened to us?

  6. It's the nature of language to evolve. Just yesterday I was talking about English with my grandma, and how it's pretty much the mutt of Europe- that's what happens when you're an island with a history of being invaded. I wonder if Shakespeare would have thought Austen's English lacked lyricism?

    And I like Karen's point about Austen being just one English speaker of her time- the lower class wouldn't have spoken the same way. Just look at Dickens' London, they weren't any less English.
    - Sophia.

  7. We totally had to learn about this kind of language change in my linguistics class last semester - super interesting! Language is really just a reflection of society. The people were way more formal in that time period and we're way less formal, so our language reflects that.

    Your question about ebonics is particularly interesting, however. It came around the Civil Rights Movement, when the blacks were being mistreated; they came up with their own language of sorts in the areas of the city that they lived in. When they were gaining more rights in the 60s, linguistics could tell that "American Black English" was going to be popular later on, so they codified it and studied it like crazy. Because of that, it's the second most codified language ever (only after Standard English). Crazy, right?!

  8. I think somewhere along the line we totally lost our manners. Now, they just seem silly to some people. Thank heavens we still can read it or listen to it through a movie, because I think it's gorgeous and fun to decode, especially the insults. The insults were so much better then than they are now. :)

  9. Jen - good for you! Glad to hear it!

    Karen - there probably were, and it isn't surprising then why they didn't hold up over time. Boring. ;)

    Eva - SAD!

    Sophia - I'm sure Shakespeare would be disappointed in all of us... :)

    Katie - how neat to have all this information in your head!!! Thanks for sharing! (Any chance we'll see a series of blog posts on this stuff?)

    Bethany - seriously... the insults had such bite to them! and sadly, if we tried one out on someone now days, they'd stare at us blankly for several minutes, and probably still wouldn't know what we said.

  10. Don't hate the know what I think bout the you'll need us one day ;)

    Seriously though, you are totally right. Except about the gamer part. Yeah. Gamer.