Language Mavens Blow — Linda

Language Mavens Blow — Linda Hall, in this Hudson Review essay, laments the degradation and trivialization of English. This sort of thing is boring. One gathers mostly that the author is pleased with herself for the excellence of her diction, the range and precision of her vocabulary, and her intimacy with literary greatness. It's also easy to suspect the academic humanist's universal need to generalize to a trend from a small fund of anecdote. Yes, even the smart kids say “hooked up”, “you rock!”, “that sucks”, and so forth. This does not mark a general decline in “our” sensitivity to fine language. If there was some way to measure it, I'd suspect that there are rather more, not fewer, youngish people well in touch with our English High-Art Literary Heritage. Check the sales trends of the “classics.” I bet there are more who can speak and write with admirable fluency than a generation ago. Ms. Hall may be distracted by some social trends. Many more people complete college educations, and so college educations don't distinguish as they once did. Also, popular culture is increasingly a lingua franca among an increasingly diverse population. And our work culture is rather egalitarian, rewarding general competence rather than effete fixation on “correct” English (otherwise, I'd be paid a lot more!) And so it pays to speak the common tongue. But we can switch easily between dialects, while our abilities to frame thoughts vividly, and to express subtle distinctions, remain intact.