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Doomed to deride the language of the next generation

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Image: Instruments of literacy – never what they used to be…

Tucking into the delights of Steven Pinker’s book about writing, The Sense of Style, I fixed on this note about the glum, cyclical outrage we’re all doomed to serve up about a younger generation’s inability to use their language well:

According to the English scholar Richard Lloyd-Jones, some of the clay tablets deciphered from ancient Sumerian include complaints about the deteriorating writing skills of the young.

Reminds me of the opening of Tom Standage’s Writing on the Wall, when he noted that the Greek philosophers were a bit worried about the effect the new technology of reading and writing would have on young minds. Standage relates how, in the Seventh Letter and the Phaedrus, Plato argued against the written word…

writing undermines the need to remember things and weakens the mind, creating “forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.”

I remember hearing the same sort of nonsense about calculators when I was at school and, Standage says, we see it again in popular criticisms of the internet, Google and social media…

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Blah, blah… meh.

Language and media evolve always and affect one another in turn. As I get older I want to remember this, and not waste any breath talking about how the next generations are clueless.