TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:Re: Evolving language or laziness? (#653920) From:Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET> Date:Fri, 15 Mar 1996 08:34:00 EST
At 11:51 AM 3/14/96 -0700, you wrote:
> 14-MAR-1996 12:15:25.68
>>>I'm always suspicious of a proposed change to a
>>>language's basic structure that's endured since at least the days of William
>>>the Conquerer and quite probably as far back as the birth of Christ.
>>I'm not aware of ever having seen such a proposal.
>>If you're referring to using "he" when the antecedent might be female, I'd
>>be interested in seeing substantiating quotes from either of the dignitaries
>>you mentioned, or from any of their contemporaries. ...RM
>And I'd suggest some reading on the history of the English language to the
>person who wrote the first comment. The structure of English has changed
>considerably since the time of William the Conqueror. Even the ordering of
>grammatical elements has changed since the middle English period.
Thanks for the suggestion, Bill, but my degree was in English and I'm
conversant with the history of the language. In fact, I had an article
published in the journal about this very matter, why we prefer to use
Latinate words when they're not really required.
Much of the reordering of English elements was the result of William the
Conquerer, because he brought French into the English language. But while
English veered off on another path, it took one heck of a lot of baggage
along with it. Most of our most basic words and structure are still stolid
Anglo-Saxon, which harks back into the haze of prehistory. "He" and its
variants are basic AS. And the use of the masculine pronoun for the
indefinite has been around for as long as we can track it.
Certainly language changes. But it must change organically, as its speakers
perceive the need. That's why English no longer has inflections like German,
Spanish, Russian and most other major European tongues. English had to
become a form of pidgin, which shaved off inconveniences like inflection.
But even such a major alteration as the loss of inflection doesn't affect
the underlying use of words. Spelling and word order change. Words and their
usages often don't.
When the majority of speakers recognize the need to change, change will
inevitably occur. But such changes are slow and gradual, not sudden and
mandated. Granted, authorities are recognizing gender neutrality, but that's
not the same as its being accepted by the populace in general. When
newspapers, magazines and ordinary conversation present me with the new
constructions, I'll gladly incorporate them. Not before.