Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Is internet English debasing the language? Not IMHO

Some of the prose on the web is dreadful, but some is as good as anything on paper | Steven Poole.

LOL  
The internet might be a historic boon for kitten-fanciers and steaming-eared trolls, but it's not all good news. Online writing, you see, is destroying the purity of English as we know it and threatening to dumb us all down into a herd of screen-jabbing illiterates. Or so runs one regular technophobic complaint, the latest version of which has been offered by Robert McCrum. He is worried about what he describes as "the abuse and impoverishment of English online (notably, in blogs and emails)" and what he perceives as "the overall crassness of English prose in the age of global communications". The remedy, as so often for such linguo-pessimists, is George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language", about whose loopy prescriptions I have previously recorded my own reservations.

But is it really true that English is being abused and impoverished in "blogs and emails"? I suppose it depends what kind of blogs one reads – the New Yorker's Page Turner blog or Crooked Timber seem pretty well-written to me – and what kind of email correspondents one is blessed with (a lot of mine, I'm happy to say, are rather excellent stylists). As for the "overall crassness" of internet prose, there is an increasing amount of very fine essay-writing going on for online-only publications such as Aeon magazine and Matter. McCrum laments "the violence the internet does to the English language", though from my point of view, here in front of my laptop, the internet seems rather faithfully to transmit whatever I type to the eyes of waiting readers without doing violence to it at all. If there's anything wrong with the result, it's my fault, not the internet's.

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