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Author Topic: Can you talk as well as your granny?  (Read 14063 times)

Offline pantodragon

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Can you talk as well as your granny?
« on: 28/01/2013 15:48:12 »

On a radio programme this morning, some experts bemoaned the decline of the English language i.e. the standard of English used.  They offered many examples, but no insights.

The reason for the decline is simple: people use the language they are capable of using.  If their language has declined, then their minds have declined.

PS: The ability to spout jargon, including scientific jargon, does not count as good English


 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #1 on: 28/01/2013 22:08:44 »
I rather hope that I speak better than my granny: she's dead.
As far as I know, nobody actually measured how well she spoke (how would you do that?)
So it's not really possible to prove that the standard of English is falling: we have no objective record of how good it was.
While I'm rather cynical about the results from exams , they seem to indicate that children's grasp of English is improving.


 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #2 on: 28/01/2013 22:35:45 »
I can remember my grandmother was always nostalgic, with many stories, usually repeated over and over and over and over again.  Perhaps she was a better story teller than me, but had no sense of when she had already told a story.  And, as she aged, she frankly got quite senile. 

I presume each generation has its own slang, but people may also grow out of the use of slang as they get older. 

Media exposure is likely both good and bad.  I wonder how much the vocabulary expands with media exposure??
 

Offline Minerva

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #3 on: 29/01/2013 06:59:40 »
I have a much different vocabulary to my granny-we all do-its not a decline just different.  Language changes and so it should, if it didn't we would all still be grunting.  You can see the changes in just a few hundred years by comparing the languages Chaucer and Shakespeare used to todays English.
I'm sure when ye became you and thine became yours there were loads of similar complaints about the "decline" sent to Ye Olde Dalye Mayle letters page........
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #4 on: 29/01/2013 07:17:15 »
Another point.
I don't believe any of my grandparents finished high school.

A couple of generations later, things have changed, and a much higher percentage of the children finish high school, and/or college. 
 

Offline David Cooper

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #5 on: 29/01/2013 19:18:24 »
i can speak well good lol better than my granny im able to express myself yeah people have no trouble understanding what im like wos so big problem with that you dont like the way I talk im like whatever
 

Offline Minerva

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #6 on: 29/01/2013 19:46:23 »
Innit..... ;D
 

Offline evan_au

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #7 on: 30/01/2013 08:52:08 »
The French language has very high standards, and it is a matter of great national pride (even though some pesky English words keep trying to sneak in, like "le weekend").

However, I've noticed that English has very different standards - we are happy if we can understand what the other person wants to communicate. That makes English a very good second language, no doubt enhancing the ability for websites like Naked Scientists and other media to cross cultural boundaries, without imposing barriers of great proficiency.

Having said that, due to its history, English is full of inconsistencies that are a barrier to this international goal (as well as an impediment to native speakers). I think we are overdue for another spelling reform; with computer coordination, hopefully we won't be left with the colour/color clashes left over from our last attempt!
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #8 on: 30/01/2013 10:51:26 »
Having said that, due to its history, English is full of inconsistencies that are a barrier to this international goal (as well as an impediment to native speakers). I think we are overdue for another spelling reform; with computer coordination, hopefully we won't be left with the colour/color clashes left over from our last attempt!

Could one ever get Britain, the USA, Canada, Australia, India, and Jamaica to all agree on the proper language?  It is hard enough to get different socio-economic groups in one country to use the same language.

Should a car have a hood and a boot, or a bonnet and a trunk?

It might take a while, but one could potentially homogenize the languages in 20 to 50 years.  Just hit the "proper" language heavily in schools, media, and publications.

Spelling and pronunciation of words could certainly be helped, especially with the incorporation of foreign words.  Although, certainly there are advantages of having heterograph homophones.

Ciao.....  :o
 

Offline Ophiolite

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #9 on: 30/01/2013 12:19:30 »
Many of the rules of good English become embedded in the subsconscious of the native speaker over time. Consequently we can hear or read something and know it faulty, yet not necessarily know why. In that regard, shouldn't the title of this thread be "Can you speak as well as your granny?"

Does anyone else feel the use of 'talk' grates on them, or is this a false warning my subconscious has picked up? I ask this because I find the topic reminiscent of the view many have of their driving: the world is filled with two kinds of incompetent drivers, those maniacs who insist on driving too fast, and those incompetents who want to drive too slowly. So it is with lanaguage.
 

Offline Minerva

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #10 on: 30/01/2013 14:05:36 »
I wouldnt like to think of the world with a homogenous language-that sounds quite boring.  Languages have different strengths and weaknesses and so different uses - maybe the answer is to use specific languages for specific activities.  For example-Japanese is totally unambiguous and would be the perfect language for law, English has endless wonderful permutations but is ambiguous so maybe it should be the language of entertainment, French should be used for anything to do with food (because EVERYTHING sounds delicious in French) and so on......  :D  So we all become polyglots instead of homogenising..... ;)


« Last Edit: 30/01/2013 14:08:15 by Minerva »
 

Offline imatfaal

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #11 on: 30/01/2013 16:32:06 »
I wouldnt like to think of the world with a homogenous language-that sounds quite boring.  Languages have different strengths and weaknesses and so different uses - maybe the answer is to use specific languages for specific activities.  For example-Japanese is totally unambiguous and would be the perfect language for law, English has endless wonderful permutations but is ambiguous so maybe it should be the language of entertainment, French should be used for anything to do with food (because EVERYTHING sounds delicious in French) and so on......  :D  So we all become polyglots instead of homogenising..... ;)

I love the result of all becoming polyglots rather than homogenizing - but would quibble the points.  English law thrives through its infinite potential for nuance, french cookery reigns supreme because it is taste and emotion driven not recipe bound, and whilst everything sounds sexy in russian it's so cold that by the time you have undressed you have forgotten what you were doing in the first place.


edited to correct grammar and spelling in this post of all posts
« Last Edit: 30/01/2013 16:34:02 by imatfaal »
 

Offline David Cooper

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #12 on: 30/01/2013 18:55:00 »
For example-Japanese is totally unambiguous and would be the perfect language for law,

Are you sure about that? Nihongo o dekimasu ka? Watasi no nihongo wa taihen warui, but I have heard that Japanese people only understand each other about 80% of the time because Japanese is so ambiguous. Perhaps that's more to do with them tending to miss out personal pronouns and leaving you to guess who's doing what, so maybe it can be tightened up a lot for legal purposes, but English can also be tightened up for legal purposes and is highly analytical.

It won't be long though before we have artificial intelligence at a level which means it won't matter which language you use, and anything legal will be stored in a completely unambiguous form with the potential to use concept codes which don't map directly to specific words in any language. Law itself will be derived from first principles through computational morality too, so monkeys won't be writing it any more either.
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #13 on: 30/01/2013 20:32:06 »
I do believe there would be a benefit of a common international language, as well as adoption of universal units and measures (USA?).  However, I don't see at least the few dozen dominant languages going away any time soon.

Accents are wonderful with guessing where a person is from. 
However, if a Jamaican, an Indian, and American, and a British person are all speaking the same language, shouldn't they be able to understand each other?

In a sense it doesn't make any difference whether a person uses aluminum or aluminium, or tires vs tyres, but it does make searches much easier if one is actually using the same word, unless you wish to have locale specific searches.
 

Offline Minerva

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #14 on: 30/01/2013 21:59:19 »
Is that right about Japanese?  Wow - how disappointing-I don't speak it and only know one person that does and he waxes lyrical about its unambiguity..... hmmmm.

Regardless-I still think different languages are suited to different aspects of human life and the French bit was tongue in cheek and its hard to go very far with it without getting stereotypical and un pc ........ [:0]  I also agree with your point about English and the law-it is indeed flexible and that's a good thing (but that also allows for a lot of legal confabulation and convolution which allows the unscrupulous and greedy to tie things up in knots for years on end).

But think how much more interesting things would be if we learnt different subjects in different languages at school ..... get those neurons multiplying........
« Last Edit: 30/01/2013 22:00:56 by Minerva »
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #15 on: 30/01/2013 22:26:30 »
But think how much more interesting things would be if we learnt different subjects in different languages at school ..... get those neurons multiplying........
I tried that.
It took me a while to realize that autovalori and eigenvalues were the same thing!

I do think, however, there are great benefits of social/cultural exchanges, no matter what one is studying.
 

Offline pantodragon

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #16 on: 31/01/2013 16:22:13 »
I would say that a sign that language skills are declining is in the greater confusion that is apparent, the inability to draw distinctions.  For example, I have a hard time finding anyone who now remembers what a metaphor actually is, and that includes dictionaries.  They describe in great detail what a metaphor is, but they confuse it with a simile, even although they describe a simile and that description is different from that for the metaphor.  What they miss, is the significant fact that a metaphor is a sort of linguistic version of a set of scientific equations such as Maxwell's equations: i.e. a metaphor can be used to draw inferences and implications.

Another example is the German word doppelganger.  It had a very precise and specific meaning but now it's much broader and more general.

The home of precise definitions is, of course, science and philosophy, and these disciplines would collapse if scientists and philosophers became unable to see the fine distinctions.  This is the kind of degradation that, it seems to me, is happening with English.
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #17 on: 31/01/2013 19:26:08 »
Being able to describe language, and being able to use language isn't necessarily the same.

I certainly got a much better understanding of grammar including English grammar only after studying a foreign language in which things like person, place, and tense are discussed in great detail, as well as learning many roots and cognates.

Are colorful curses considered metaphors?  If so, then I've known some people that are very proficient with their use, albeit somewhat limited in the variety metaphors being incorporated in their speech. 

Certainly computers are changing the way things like math and spelling are learned.  No doubt language and grammar are also being taught differently now than of a century ago.
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #18 on: 31/01/2013 20:43:41 »
  For example, I have a hard time finding anyone who now remembers what a metaphor actually is, and that includes dictionaries.   

I would have a hard time finding anyone who cared.
That's not a change in language (or even use of language) it's a change in society.

Perhaps Shakespeare is bemoaning the fact that people no longer understand words like "private"* and misuse them. I think it's not that people "get it wrong" but that they get it right, pretty much by definition.
Language changes.
The English your granny spoke was right, then. The English we speak is equally right, now.


* Go off; I discard you: let me enjoy my private: go off
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #19 on: 31/01/2013 21:09:37 »
Metaphors and similes would be vital for fiction writing as they can be used to create visual images in the mind.

Visual media, however, may not use metaphors as frequently, at least not in the same way. 

Why start a movie with
"The man's face, striking with the deep canyons covering it, peered up to see the fireball in the sky, brighter than the sun."

When you can merely show a picture of the man and the event.
 

Offline pantodragon

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #20 on: 02/02/2013 15:42:13 »
In the first instance, there is such a thing as beauty, beauty of rhythm, music, of being able to express yourself "just so".  What language is being reduced to now is something purely functional and that suits machines which, of course, have no aesthetic sense.  This is not just a matter of taste, it's not just that I have a preference for the language of the past, it is that the language of the past simply was richer.  This is something which could actually be measured with machines.  It's like a modern orchestra which has  a small selection of standardised instruments, as compared with several hundred years ago when there were far more instruments and even the instruments such as the violin, were not standardised.  (One might observe at this point that the old Stradivarius violins are still thought to be unequalled for sound quality by modern violin makers.  And the same goes in fact for named cellos and other stringed instruments of the past.)

Of course, in all of this discussion one is apt to loose sight of the other function of langauge i.e. for thinking.  If you don't have language to think with then you can no more think than you can do physics without maths.  One of the main elements of language type thinking is the use of the metaphor - metaphors are not just poetic conceits, they are an important aspect of understanding.  When you try to cope with all the complexity and vastness of the world around you, you need to reduce things, to put things in a nutshell, to find the metaphor - this is the equivalent of discovering, say, Maxwell's equations which is a nutshell way of encapsulating the world of electromagnetic radiation.
 

Offline David Cooper

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #21 on: 02/02/2013 20:29:14 »
In the first instance, there is such a thing as beauty, beauty of rhythm, music, of being able to express yourself "just so".  What language is being reduced to now is something purely functional and that suits machines which, of course, have no aesthetic sense.

Language always was functional and can sound beautiful even when the meaning is entirely banal, just as purely functional objects can be beautiful. If people want to use language for artistic purposes, the still can and arguably do: rap is modern poetry (though most of it is just piles of cliches).

Quote
This is not just a matter of taste, it's not just that I have a preference for the language of the past, it is that the language of the past simply was richer.  This is something which could actually be measured with machines.

Dictionaries continue to grow bigger as new words are created, enriching language rather than reducing it. Shakespeare had to invent a lot of new words to get around the poverty of language in his day.

Quote
Of course, in all of this discussion one is apt to loose sight of the other function of langauge i.e. for thinking.  If you don't have language to think with then you can no more think than you can do physics without maths.

Thought is independent of language, although communication via language is crucial in training someone to think in the first place - those few who grow up without it (brought up by wild dogs, etc.) are severely retarded. When a thought flashes through your head, it does so without words and in a fraction of a second - you may then spend some time translating that thought into words in your head and reinterpret that back into thought again out of habit, but that is done as an add on to the original act of thinking, and it can help you check the logic of the thought due to the double convertion which may end up putting it into a different form. Many thoughts don't convert well into language though, and some are impossible to put in words, so if you relied on language to think you'd be severely limited.

Quote
One of the main elements of language type thinking is the use of the metaphor - metaphors are not just poetic conceits, they are an important aspect of understanding.  When you try to cope with all the complexity and vastness of the world around you, you need to reduce things, to put things in a nutshell, to find the metaphor - this is the equivalent of discovering, say, Maxwell's equations which is a nutshell way of encapsulating the world of electromagnetic radiation.

That is a meme: someone has asserted that metaphors are an important aspect of understanding and it has spread as if it is a fact. It is actually false. A metaphor is just a simile with the "like/as" part removed, thereby giving an idea greater impact due to its falsity, generating more excitement in the mind of the listener at the challenging of their existing beliefs and inviting them to consiter alternative realities. It's real significance is that there is something in common between two different things, though the thing in common may or may not technically be the same at all and is often entirely misleading.
 

Offline Ophiolite

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #22 on: 03/02/2013 23:50:53 »
You do not need to know the distinction between metaphor and simile to be able to use them to great effect. I do not need to know the carbon content of a steel blade to use it with surgical precision.
 

Offline pantodragon

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #23 on: 07/02/2013 16:40:53 »

 A metaphor is just a simile with the "like/as" part removed,

I hesitate here, because this is so wrong that I'm not quite sure that you are not actually joking.  However, the definition you give here is precisely the wrong definition that I see in textbooks and dictionaries.

I heard an advertiser talk about the advert they had created to sell a car.  The advert used the image of a panther.  The advertiser referred to the image as a metaphor for the car.  In fact, it is not a metaphor.  Can you tell me why?  Also, can you tell me why it is a simile?
 

Offline pantodragon

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
« Reply #24 on: 07/02/2013 16:44:11 »
You do not need to know the distinction between metaphor and simile to be able to use them to great effect. I do not need to know the carbon content of a steel blade to use it with surgical precision.

You're in the wrong frame of reference here.  The anaology should be this: the difference between a simile and a metaphor is the difference between a scalpel and a pair of forceps; and if you cannot distinguish the difference between one tool and another then god help the patient!
 

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Re: Can you talk as well as your granny?
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