THE FORCES OF DESTRUCTION – GUY DEUTSCHER
- Deutscher is a radical prescriptivist meaning he believes language is getting better, and more suited to the world in which we live in.
- The central point in his article is that within language, destruction and creation are intimately entwined, and in order to understand creation you must ‘lead through alleyways of destruction’.
- He is arguing against the notion that our language is decaying (Crumbling castle idea) as many claim, including George Orwell -1946- and linguist August Schliecher -1848.
- Deutscher claims many people believe language is changing for the worse because decay is more easily spotted by the naked eye, whereas language renewal and creation are more difficult to spot.
- Therefore, this is why decay has dominated the perception of language change for so long.
- He believes that if an irregularity in language appears messy or illogical, there will more than likely be logical reasoning behind it.
- For example…
The Irregularity of Flowers
- In Latin, there are five different groups of nouns, each with a different set of case endings. With the noun “flos” for “flower” you would expect the following to occur:
- However, this is not what occurs in Latin. Instead,
- Deutscher found out that at one point in history, flowers had been perfectly regular (flos, flosem, flosis…) until a certain point when a change took place stating that every ‘s’ between two vowels should turn into an ‘r’.
- This was an entirely regular change and happened to all eligible candidates.
- As a result, an irregularity had wormed its way into words like flos.
- The consequence of this change in Latin can still be felt in English today…
- Just and jurisdiction both go back to the Latin root “jus”.
- For just, from the Latin “justus”, the s remained unaltered (as it wasn’t between two vowels).
- However, the Latin “jusis” was changed to “juris” since the s lay between two vowels. This is how we came to have the word jurisdiction.
- The same applies to rustic and rural, both from the Latin “rus” meaning country.
- Deutscher therefore claims that since we can find an explanation to the ‘irregularity’ of “flos” and “floris”, then surely we should be able to discover the reason behind other exceptions to general rules, too.
- Deutscher claims that, when it comes to language and in particular rapid speech, we are all bone-idle.
- For this reason, we tend to expel only the minimal amount of energy required for our listener to understand the intended meaning.
- This is perfectly demonstrated with “je ne sais pas” often being pronounced “shepa” and “I do not know” stripped down to “dunno”.
- In particular, it is the at the end of the word where speakers tend to run out of steam and more than likely assume the listener will have gotten the gist of word by then.
- More often than not, the end syllable is left most exposed.
What happened to the rather portly Latin “persica malus”, Persian apple?
-second word dropped altogether
-then the vowel “i” disappeared
-further shortened to:
***This ended up on English palates as a rather shrivelled***
- Other prescriptivists include:
- Other theorists Deutscher refers to include:
-he believed language should progress and develop more and more perfect structures during their history, but instead we find the opposite. He put this down to the observable period coincides perfectly with the period of decay, whereas the phase of building the language coincides precisely with the period that is impossible to observe.
-in what became known as ‘Grimm’s law’, Grimm established a set of regular correspondences between early Germanic stops and fricatives and the stop consonants of other languages, in particular Latin and Greek.
SIR WILLIAM JONES
-famously reported the discovery of a genuine, but shocking, linguistic relationship between Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, and the classical European languages Latin and Greek.
“The forces of destruction almost seem to leap out of the pages of practically any language’s history, but the contrary processes, the productive forces of renewal and creation, are much more difficult to spot”
“What looks messy and irregular at one point in time can appear perfectly logical when traced through history”
“English started borrowing heavily from Latin and French, and thus developed a two-tier vocabulary of home-grown and borrowed words.”
“So, like any other living organism, languages have an early period of growth, followed by a period of decay”
“Past irregularities are like footprints on a sand dune. Once a breeze has blown them over, there is often no way of telling that they had ever been there.”
“Pre-historic languages must have had scores of irregularities, but these must have vanished without trace. So the image of a flawless language spoken some time in prehistory turns out to have been mainly a mirage. In reality, there never was a Golden Age of perfection.”
- I agree with Deutscher’s claim that decay and renewal within language is very closely intertwined, so in theory we should not say that our language is getting worse and worse.
- I also believe that in some instances, it is in fact very subjective when it comes to determining whether language is improving or decaying.
- Therefore, language is simply changing as history progresses, neither for better or worse.