“Why do languages decay?|
age 8⅔, Smart Aleck, NY.
Hwæt! Languages don’t decay, they change over... okay, I just can’t go on perpetuating this myth that languages don’t decay. They do. They decay because speakers are lazy. The prescriptivist language mavens are right. (By the way, maven is a portmanteau of musty and raven and comes from a well-
Anyway, to get back to my main point, the word portmanteau refers to a word made by combining two other words, such as with the case of musty + raven = maven. The word portmanteau itself is, at least apocryphally, a merging of three words. More of a smooshing, actually, since they didn’t really merge all that much. Mark Twain, when pinned by etiquette and unable to escape a traveller on a steamboat who insisted on telling a long and rambling tale, called out to the barkeep, “Bring me another glass of wine! And a glass of sherry! Hell, bring me a whole bottle of port, man, too!” The phrase captured the imagination of a Frenchman traveling on the steamboat
But I digress. What I really wanted to tell you about was the word apocryphal. It comes from Greek ἀπό-, meaning “away, apart” + English crap + ha!, and was originally used by classics scholars to mean “Ha! Get that crap away from me!”, and was used when other, lesser, scholars seemed to be making things up.
So, as I was saying, English is in fact rotting from the inside out. The prescriptivists are right on that score. Where they are wrong is in believing that younger generations today are any lazier, are more linguistically degenerate, or contribute more to the decay of English than the generations who came before. We all do terrible, irreparable violence to our Langue every time we open our Parole holes. That’s the nature of Language.
Out in the real world, decay is part of the cycle of life. Plants pull nutrients from the soil, struggle toward the light, grow, and get eaten by animals. Animals get nutrients from the plants (and other animals) they eat, poop, and die. Animal poop and dead animals provide nutrients to the soil, and the cycle of life continues.
So, too, with languages. Lazy speakers of synthetic languages erode the grammar-
Thus the cycle of life and the cycle of grammaticalization are very similar, except the cycle of life operates on individuals over short time spans, involves the struggle for life and growth, and only partly relies on real or metaphorical poop, while the cycle of grammaticalization operates on groups over long time scales, involves the antithesis of struggle
The important question is: where are we? How long until English is nothing but a pile of grammatical excrement? Fortunately, there are linguo-
Ha! Just kidding! It is mathematically provable that there is now no way to ever use commas that will keep all language mavens happy, and we’re running out of time so fast that this sentence may have