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Monday, May 2, 2016

Write your obituary in 'Talkese'

Thursday, April 5, 2007

"Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music, and Why We Should, Like, Care" (Gotham Books, 2003). Anything but a catchy title. The author, John McWhorter, seems to go out of his way to perpetrate the very linguistic sins he laments. He gives no real reason "why we should, like, care." And he ends with no suggestions for reversing or even halting the "degradation."

But being a pushover for almost any word about words, finding the title on a remaindered list, I blew $5.95. The newspaper scanner, that lately parleyed (10 cents) of mine into $100 (a hundred dollars), ought to make me a bibliophile millionaire out of that.

McWhorter preens himself as a perfectly balanced fence straddler. But to this reader he still lists perilously leftward. His explanation for linguistic decline is "simplistic," as they put it, and historically myopic: typically liberal. His perfunctory blame of the 1960s adds up to (to turn a phrase, turn it upside down) "praising with faint damns."

So the old world was a Wonderful OneHoss Shay. But its falling apart had been going on, invisibly, for decades. It was mere coincidence that the fancy rig "wore out all together" and collapsed in a dustheap just as the calendar turned 1960s.

As those who'd spent the decade infantilely "turning on, tuning in, dropping out" one day looked in their mirrors, they recoiled at what they saw. So they grew up, sort of. Stopped blowing up research labs and turned to blowing up what lay behind the labs and all Academe. The vogue word for it was "deconstructionism." Clearly, mere "destruction" would've cut too near the truth for those lower orders, who, alas, had to be humored by their betters.

Scratch a "tenured radical," as they're called, and you'll find a permanently spoiled brat, ever assured at both home and school that he's owed a cushy living by those same lower orders, whose own duty and destiny is to heed and follow the upper orders, folks like himself.

Of course politics has always swayed "public instruction," as once it was formally called ("education" being a modem misnomer). What the 1960s added was "political correctness," by this time the new, established religion, complete with its own orthodoxy and (of course) heretics. Such sophomoric iconoclasts have always loved to Úpater les bourgeois (stick it to the conventional) while, of course, uplifting the poor and powerless, who, it turns out, are poorest and most powerless against being forcibly "uplifted" by their self-appointed betters.

Being so busy preaching, these new saviors of the world have no time for, or interest in, teaching, teaching anybody anything, but above all not English, since in our world knowing English is the basis for knowing anything else, anything at all.

Oops, I forgot: "English" is on the index of forbidden words. After all, isn't it the codelingo of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, whose hobby is genocide? The proper term is "language arts." Poor Shakespeare! Think what gems he might have turned out if only he could've imbibed Language Arts at his Stratford school, not that capital-imperialist Queen's English.

Educrats, in danger of actually having to try to teach English, cast about for succor. And behold! English texts are now peddling a propaganda known to no other culture, past or present: Namely, dislike, or at least disdain, of one's own culture and language.

Their self-described mission is, not to teach such biased junk, but to "introduce students to cultures other than their own, and focus on the injustices and tragedies of American imperialism, distracting students from acquiring advanced, written words in the English language." "Sixth graders today are not being offered the English language" as we used to know it. "These editors exist in a culture of language teaching in which, since the late sixties, to celebrate English would be morally backward."

"The Dartmouth conference of 1966 overtly decried a focus on grammar, analysis, and writing self-standing essays, instead elevating learning through informal classroom talk."

Talk! There's the key, the giveaway. Time was, language was tailored to the occasion. E.g. the Bible was rendered in sublime, exalted English. But today, only one idiom is deemed legitimate: the oral, the lowest common denominator thereof. "Hey, like, you know, the Man, he taken care of me. I done got everything I need." (Psalm 23.)

"Writers," wrote two educrats in 1993, "should be encouraged to make intentional errors in standard form and usage. Attacking the demand for standard English is the only way to end its oppression of linguistic minorities."

That is, good writers must write like illiterates so the illiterates won't get their li'l feelin's hurt. And ain't it only fair, if minorities must learn and use standard English, then white folks must "learn" and use, like, you know, ebonics?

The above quotes "appeared in the house organ of the National Council of Teachers of English. The editors singled it out for praise, while the Conference on English Leadership judged it the best education article of the year." "A motion was discussed to eliminate the word 'English' from the organization's name, on the grounds that it appeared to dismiss people of other cultural heritages: As one member put it 'If we are to offer diversity, there can be a conversation about language arts, but not about English.'"

The rationale is, the written culture is going oral anyway (think of e mail). Why fight it? Speech now, is mere oral writing (bad!) But talk is sincere, realistic (good!). Writing is formal, serious, hypocritical (bad!). Only a few poor hungup freaks orate or write any more. Everybody else just talks. In my morning paper a news item is headlined "Gator Goes Bye Bye." How nice! The poor insomniac cayman finally got in a few winks! The "talkese" headline is sincere, realistic, and as slapdash as the writer's synapses. Of course we can figure it out that the alligator merely broke jail. But "talkese," used where it matters, is a graveyard of muddled thinking.

The rot has further rotted the rot known as pop music. Till at least 1920, "music" in the West meant melody and harmony. Today it means rhythm and repetitious dimwit lyrics, mostly subversive, obscene, and prone to "variations." Postjazz music is seldom really written, given fixed form. Sheet music is mere memos to get the "artist's" artistic juices flowing. The flowing takes the form, e.g., of fingering one's crotch while screeching a tuneless National Anthem. (This from a black author who actually plays and likes jazz and its ever more outrageous progeny.) I, no more than McWhorter, have the answer, the cure. My advice, though, is For Pete's sake get your kids out of that looneybin where they urge the bright ones to play dumb so the real dumb won't feel bad. Not, at least, till their prospective employer learns they can't put two sensible words together, and that they've been royally hoodwinked.