Expanding Circles of Conversation

In his essay “The Decline of Grammar”, Geoffrey Nunberg discusses the views of various critics that the English language is degenerating. Although his essay was published in 1997, I believe that these critics would be even more convinced of the degeneration of the English language in the current day. Nunberg responds to these criticisms on his own, but I think it’s valuable to discuss the state of the English language today as opposed to in the previous decade. We live in a time where, courtesy of the Internet and technology, people are able to broadcast their voices to large audiences with greater simplicity than ever before. In previous decades, the medium of print limited the amount of people who could share their ideas and opinions with a large group. Currently, with the various mediums of communication, there are a plethora of new voices, and consequently a plethora of different forms of the English language broadcasted to various audiences.

The basic rules of grammar and English have remained relatively consistent in certain mediums such as scholarly articles and works of literature, yet these only make up a small portion of the material we read on a daily basis. The fact of the matter is that now, more so than ever, the circles of conversation usually confined to interpersonal, direct conversation have been aided by technology, and therefore these circles of conversation have expanded. These circles of conversation become more public as opposed to private; for example, vernacular English usually confined to the home has expanded as the circles of conversation are enhanced through technology. What this may lead critics to believe is that the English language is degenerating, and that the care and attention to certain grammatical rules is slowly but surely dying. This may appear to be the case, but I do not believe the language is degenerating; I believe that these variations of the English language have existed to a degree for decades, or perhaps centuries, and it is not that the English language is changing, but that these variations of the English language are noticeable on a more public level. Therefore, I believe this degeneration is more illusory than these critics recognize, although I cannot deny that the English language has changed to a degree over the years, just not to the degree that certain critics may claim.

As Michael mentioned in his post, the purpose of language is for communication and the varying discourses and circles of conversation we participate in dictate the way we speak or write. With this fact in mind, I believe that the goal of English education should include an emphasis on the idea of conversational awareness, an awareness of the circle of conversation that an individual is in and an awareness of the type of English appropriate for this circle of conversation. I believe if people are educated in such a way, that various circles of conversation can continue to flourish without any degeneration of the English language itself. Our country is composed of many different individuals, and consequently different voices. While I do believe it is important to maintain some level of correctness in language, it is also important to allow these different voices to be expressed.

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