Andy Crane has just been talking about language on Radio Sheffield. More specifically, those expressions that “really get one’s goat”.
I don’t buy the linguists’ reassurances. He had one of these on his program. The English language is getting simpler. That isn’t in dispute. As it does so, however, my opinion is that it is losing nuances. Having more and more new words, which linguists like to mention supporting the idea of language growth, is a red herring. When I broke a set of china that I had inherited (during moving house), I had many more pieces of china than I had had before – but it certainly wasn’t worth the same.
Having now been away from England for a quarter of a century (!), I am sensitive to quite a lot of the changes. The wonders of the internet have allowed me to listen to Radio Sheffield, and it is a surreal experience listening to what I used to listen to as a schoolboy from my DAB/FM/and Internet radio here in Norway. I notice the language immediately, and when Andy Crane decided to talk about this – I couldn’t resist writing.
One of my pet gripes is the loss of the word “pupil”. Right from primary school, children are now called “students”. I know from correspondence with teachers this is done deliberately. “Student” is felt to be more respectful, or as the Outwood empire of schools based at Wakefield puts it “Students First” (yes, I know they are “academies” now, but I don’t have time to moan about that here). Yet this is firstly a loss of an important distinction, and secondly disingenuous in my opinion.
Firstly, a word about “in my opinion” though. That has to be the last time I write this. I remember when I went to the former Polytechnic of Huddersfield, we were told by our lecturer David Lennox that we should have the confidence to write what we thought. It should, he said, be obvious that it was our opinion; and now that we had got a place in higher education we should have that confidence about our own competency on the subjects we were writing about. I mention this because I can almost hear somebody thinking already, “well, that’s only your opinion”. Yes indeed it is my opinion, and that is why I write a blog about it!
By calling children “students” one is being disingenuous. Contrary to what you would think from an age with corporal punishment, schools were less autocratic when I was brought up. Looking at the “discipline policies” anyone can read for themselves on most schools’ websites, it seems to me that instead of calling it “a rule” one calls it now “a policy” – and somehow “policies” seems much nicer. My impression of the “student” life at school is that it is just as controlled as mine ever was as a pupil, if indeed not more so. Now these same policies for “students” are regulating their life even outside the school gates.
Yet there is another problem with “student”, which really comes back in the face of teachers thinking they are showing them respect. Let us say these teachers are successful in sending these “students” into higher education, there will now not be anything special about their new status – as students. Being a student formerly implied a greater degree of autonomy. If this were not so, then there would be no argument either for abandoning the term “pupil”: as we have seen, “student” is thought to be more respectful. Yet now this word “student” has become devalued and one denies today’s youngsters this later status.
I have already written about how language can sometimes do one’s thinking for a person, instead of the other way round. That English is simplifying (acknowledged by the linguists) means that everything we say today, Shakespeare could have said – but the opposite is not true. No Shakespeare didn’t know about computers, but he like we would have been able to invent a new word for something he hadn’t seen before. That is because in addition to words, as in the above example, we also have grammar. It is the grammar – not words – that is simplifying. In one respect, the argument that modern translations of the bible are more accurate is patently false: the English language can no longer distinguish between the singular and plural address. Given that biblical texts constantly alternate between “thou” and “you” within one sentence just like we alternate even today between “I” and “we”, there is no way that the paraphrasing into Modern English can be more accurate.
In 2004 I wrote a deliberately provocative essay on just that. It is called “Your Body Is NOT the Temple of the Holy Spirit”. Most churches in England and America are completely wrong on this. You can read why here. http://www.scribd.com/doc/49207268/Your-Body-Is-Not-The-Temple-of-The-Holy-Spirit
The distinction between “you” (singular) and “you” (plural) always used to be a problem for me when I lived in England. Once you grasp this, and start thinking it, then it can become a constant irritation for you. The model of communication is supposed to be TX (transmitter, ie speaker/writer), medium, and RX (receiver, ie hearer/reader). If I am transmitting “you” (plural) but in my receiver’s brain “you” (singular) pops out…. there is a real problem.
There is a problem. Most of you cannot see this, and if you do then chances are you have another language. It was only because fate brought me to a country where this distinction is a day to day part of my language that I escaped this.
So yes language is changing. That does not mean that this is necessarily progress, if that word is only understood to mean something good. I think the English language is much poorer today. One reason may well be that it is a victim of its own success. In order to become an international world language, it has had to adapt and simplify. Yet that has come at some cost.
Remember the song Video Killed the Radio Star? The tables seemed to have turned. Today radio is making its comeback.
With me the catalyst was the Texan radio presenter Alex Jones. I’ve been listening to him regularly since 2006, apart from small breaks when he provokes even me. I still come back to listening though, after my sulks.
Of course mainstream media would have you believe that Alex Jones is simply a conspiracy nut. Whatever else you might think of him, he’s certainly no nut. The program is well researched, and nearer the truth than comfort. Nevertheless, I’m not writing about the merits of his program here. The one thing Alex Jones has done is to radically change my media habits.
Had you told me back in 2006 that not only should I listen to this program when it is live – peak TV viewing hours here in Norway – I should never have believed you. Had you told me that I should go days on end without ever watching a TV, I should simply have laughed. Yet the fact is that the TV is now so negligible in my life that I seriously considered sending my notice in to the licensing authorities that I no longer had one in use. My TV has been in storage since I moved to my apartment in April. I haven’t missed it, either.
Alex Jones must take a lot of the credit for this. In addition to his more controversial topics, he has spoken about how much better it is (intellectually) to listen or read. TV presents you with pictures of short duration; in radio the mind must make the pictures itself. I remember one program when Alex described this in detail. His vivid description of a pretty woman, and a situation she was in – was all the TV I needed in my own head! Alex Jones convinced me then that TV atrophies the grey matter.
Since 2006 the Internet has really come into its own. I know that many listen to radio online. In the case of the TV, there is a plethora of channels to choose from, but their interest and quality seem to be inversely proportional to their ever increasing multitude; in the case of radio, the opposite seems to be the case. The greater the choice, the more relevant a factor radio seems to be.
Pictured above is my new DAB-radio. In addition to the DAB channels that have just come on air where I live, which give me a rich choice, I can also listen to conventional FM (until this is turned off in 2017), or as I did today to Internet Radio. You can choose precisely the programming you yourself are interested in, and a lot of people are doing just that! Today there was a surreal feeling when I tuned in to BBC Radio Sheffield, broadcasting from the country I grew up in. My radio has a retro design as it is, and hearing Sheffield coming through its speakers, and listening to the news felt very strange indeed. The world has become a much smaller place.
There is sadly one threat to this new technology. I refer to greedy lawyers in various performing rights’ organisations. More and more stations are “geo-blocked” because of licensing issues. This defeats the whole point of buying an internet radio! The internet radio is the modern equivalent of those old fashioned short wave radios on which you could listen to the radio stations of the whole world. Like mine, some even look like them. If however, it becomes impossible to listen to radio stations outside your own country, you might as well not ever bother buying one.
As for my TV, I decided not to send in that notice. Since that meant that the licensing authority automatically deducted a lot of money for my license this week, I took the TV out of its hiding yesterday. I watched the evening news from the state broadcaster. I think there are three channels I can view (you can see how interested I am given I don’t know!), because I don’t have any subscriptions for the digital terrestrial network. The decoder has a lot of radio channels though!
When I was growing up I listened a lot to BBC Radio Sheffield. Undoubtedly, I should have heard them play Video Killed the Radio Star. As I placed myself today into surreality by listening again from Norway, I could not help but think that radio has finally taken revenge.