Remember all the flap a couple of decades ago about non-standard English – Spanglish, Ebonics, Yinglish, and the like? In her article “English Die Soon,” Annalee Newitz notes that although 2 billion people speak English worldwide, only 300 million of those speak what could be called “standard English.” Between techno-acronyms and dialectal speakers, what we used to call standard English is fading fast.
Not that we should necessarily be alarmed. Language always changes. As long as we understand each other, how much does it matter if, for instance, we all drop “ed” as a past tense marker and accept “Yesterday I walk to the store” as appropriate?
When it came to our changing language, conservative proponents of the “real America” were at one time the biggest alarmists. Now one has to look no farther than Alaska’s governor to wonder whether these folks have either dropped their insistence on good American English or decided that the best politicians are those who look pretty but talk gibberish. In “Our Country Deserves Better,” the Alaska Dispatch reports that a conservative California-based political action group is, through a series of ads, lauding Palin an an “articulate, straight-forward and uplifting champion of common sense conservative ideals.”
Meanwhile, in his NY Times blog “The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla,” Dick Cavett bemoans inarticulate Palinisms like:
“My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars.”
Given our vastly differing ideas of what makes one articulate, maybe English is already dead. I just hope folks don’t think Palin is talking some new-fangled Alasglish. Because, really, we do know how to talk up here – when we have something of substance to say.