By Alan Graner
We are watching the English language disintegrate before our very eyes and ears.
Of course this has been going on for a couple of thousand years and will continue to do so. But it’s happening so gradually we don’t notice until long after.
What am I talking about?
There was a time when all the letters in a word were pronounced (though not necessarily the same way we’d pronounce them today). The K in “knight” and” know” is silent today, but once upon a time it was pronounced KN (which the Germans still do).
100 years ago merry, marry and Mary were all pronounced differently (mĕrry, mărry, Māry). Today they’re pronounced the same. In the distant past two, too and to were pronounced differently too.
We complain about all these silent letters that make English so difficult so spell (e.g., limb, through), yet today we are actively rendering additional letters silent.
These silent letters are the result of elisions—omitting vowels or consonants in a word or phrase. So we end up with silent Ds (“hunnert” for “hundred” and silent Ts (“twenny” instead of “twenty”.
Some letters and letter combinations are simply too difficult to pronounce, in which case we simply stop pronouncing them. As a result, fewer and fewer people pronounce the initial R sounds in “library” (“libary”) and “February” (“Febuary”). And of course, long ago we stopped saying the W sound in “two as well as the “ough” and “ight” sounds.
And then we have our Eastern and Southern brethren who drop Rs whenever possible (“pahk” for “park,” “sugah” for “sugar.”) Though some Midwesterners actually ADD Rs to words like “warsh” for “wash.” Go figure.
Why is this happening?
The answer is simple: lazy tongue.
See for yourself.
Say “D”, then “T”. Notice your tongue must move up to your teeth to say “T” while “D” requires hardly any movement at all, making it easier to pronounce. So it should come as no surprise that more and more people say “priddy” instead of “pretty” and “cidy” instead of “city.”
We’re so lazy, in fact, we constantly shorten words for our own convenience, hence: bra, hazmat, fridge, dorm, meds. I wonder how many generations wit will take before English-speaking youths become totally unaware the real words once were brassiere, hazardous materials, refrigerator, dormitory and medicines?
We’re also continuing the tradition of developing our own mash-ups in which several words are scrunched into one, leaving us with “watcha” instead of “what are you” and “gonna” instead of “going to. “In the past we created such mash-ups as “good-bye” instead of “God be with ye” and “zounds” for “God’s wounds.” OK, so we don’t say zounds anymore. Forget it. Bad example.
English has evolved so much in the past 400 years, it’s become difficult to read Shakespeare without notes at the bottom telling us what many of his words meant.
Will it come to pass that, in another 400 years, Americans will be unable to read today’s books without first running them through translation algorithms?
Count on it.
What evidence have you seen of the disintegration of English?
Alan Graner is Chief Creative Officer at Daly-Swartz Public Relations, an Orange County, CA based marketing communications firm. For PR campaigns written in frighteningly easy to understand English, email Jeffrey Swartz at email@example.com.