During episode 105 of Californication, the protagonist, Hank Moody as played by David Duchovny, sets off on a beautiful diatribe about the decline of the English language through blogspeak while appearing on the Henry Rollins show.

It’s a great speech in a great episode of a great show. So, great, right?

The trouble is, it’s based on a false premise: Hank’s rant is based on the idea that there is a correct way of speaking English and that blogspeak is nowhere near it. In fact, English is a beautiful, complicated language that succeeds because of the ease with which it can be altered, manipulated, re-purposed, and re-worked.

So, first things first. Moody (or, more realistically, the show writer) gets wound up by his girlfriend using LOL in actual conversation. He cites this as an example of the decline of the English language through the use of blogging and other technologies. He goes on to state that we are all only psuedo-communicating because of this; we are not really communicating using the full glory of the English language.

And, again, I call bullshit.

English was spread around the world through a complicated web of colonialism, commercialism, capitalism, religious and democratic evangelism, and simple pragmatism. But then, so was Spanish. And French.

So why has English become the default international language? Why is English the second language favored by almost every country of the globe? The answer lies in English’s inherent adaptability. New words can be created by advertising agencies (Xerox, Kodak) or borrowed from other languages (plaza, garage), or stolen outright to be re-purposed for something new (robot, soda). Additionally, Greek and Latin roots make for dozens of synonyms and antonyms thereby almost guaranteeing that there is at least one word people feel comfortable using.

Further, the grammar of English is robust enough that there are several alternative ways of expressing the same or similar thoughts, allowing speakers of other languages the luxury of finding the way that best works with their thinking patterns. (This is why language teachers can identify students native languages from the mistakes made in English.)

Couple this with the fact that English has no academy while France and Spain do; English has no established authority to tell us what the correct form of expression is. So, while Americans may say, “I don’t have any cash on me.” the English can say “I haven’t got any cash on me.” and both expressions are correct. This extends to vocabulary as well, as I pointed out above.

Last, think about slang and natural expression. None of us, and I do mean none, speak slang or expression free. We all use idioms and metaphorical language on a daily basis to help express ideas or communicate thoughts from one person to another. And vocabulary developed on the internet, used with appropriate grammar is no different from using an established idiom from the 17th century.

All of this taken together gives us, as I said, a robust, changeable language that is not constricted by the need to prove what is correct or what is right. As long as listeners can understand clearly what is being meant by the speaker, it is correct and proper English, no matter where it comes from.

I’m done ranting now. Thanks for reading.


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Filed under Learning From the Master, The Language We Speak

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