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William Safire On the written Language

英語を勉強している方のためのフォーラムです。練習のために英語の文章を投稿してもかまわなく、英語の文法・語彙に関する質問をしてもけっこうです。

William Safire On the written Language

Postby clay » Sun 09.10.2006 5:07 pm

William Safire gave the commencement speech at Syracuse University on 5/13/1978. (found on page 49 in his book “On Language” and here (not easy to read): http://www.flylittlebird.org/Archive/Speeches/Print.aspx?id=278&m=browse2003) It is a great speech which should be read in its entirety.

In 1978 he was very upset at the decline of the written English language. He blamed the telephone (see below) as the main culprit. Considering how the Internet has trashed the language far more than telephone could ever do (“lol” or “c u l8er” or writing everything in lower or UPPER cAsE), it is neat to read his rant in retrospect.

My subject today is 'The Decline of the Written Word.' If the speech I have written is disjointed and confusing, you will get my point the hard way...

The reason for the decline of the written word - speeches, written articles - is that we, as a people, are writing less and talking more. Because it takes longer to prepare our thoughts on paper, that means we are ad-libbing more, and it also means we are thinking more superficially. An ad-lib has its place, but not ad nauseam...

The greatest cultural villain of our times has a motherly image: Ma Bell. The telephone company. Instead of writing, people are calling; instead of communicating, they're 'staying in touch.'

And it's going to get worse: phone vision is on the way. We have seen what happened to the interpersonal correspondence of love in the past generation. The purple passages of prose, and tear-stained pages of the love letter - that's gone now. It has become the heavy breathing, grunts, and 'like, I mean, y'know, wow' of the love call. The next stage, with the visual dimension, will not even require a loud sign: we can just wave at each other to say hello; wiggle our fingers to express affection; raise our eyebrows to ask, 'What's new?,' get a shrug in reply, and sign off with a smile and a wink.


Then Safire gives four steps for the 'salvation of the English language'

1) First, "First drafts are usually stupid"
2) "Second, reject the notion that honesty and candor demand that you 'let it all hang out.' That's not honesty; that's intellectual laziness."
3) "Third, never forget that you own the telephone; the telephone does not own you. " He continues, "When I was in the Nixon administration, my telephone was tapped - I had been associating with known journalists. So I took an interest in the instrument itself. Turn it upside down; you will notice a lever that says 'louder.' Turn it away from the direction of louder. That is the direction of emancipation."
4) In typical Safire fashion, he then 'pretends' to ad-lib a fourth step as if he is talking to himself. Eventually he says it is demanding speakers use "words full of meaning, binding thoughts together with purpose, holding promise of understandable progress."

--

Will the English language survive ‘cyber English’? Perhaps we need to edit step #3 to remind us the Internet does not own us. We CAN refrain from using nonsensical acronyms like “IMNSHO”; we CAN use capitalization responsibly; we CAN teach our children how to spell (or at the very least, teach them how to use a spell checker).
Last edited by clay on Sun 09.10.2006 5:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: William Safire On the written Language

Postby Tspoonami » Sun 09.10.2006 5:23 pm

Sometimes I think that I'm afraid of thinking, and that scares me.
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RE: William Safire On the written Language

Postby mamba » Sun 09.10.2006 5:38 pm

Ooo, Tspoonami, i read a little of the lyrics and it seems that it was relating to a book called "Pygmalion" i believe, a really good book which i read. I believe Pygmalion was a story about how this god felt lonley and carved a lovely lady out of wood, later to fall in love with it. Same in the book how this linguist took this gutter-lady and bet to his assistance that he could pass her off as some princess of paris in a banquette. In the process, he starts to fall in love with her. This story is also used so many times in movies, but i like the original better.
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RE: William Safire On the written Language

Postby clay » Sun 09.10.2006 5:55 pm

My Fair Lady was based on Pygmalion, a play by George Bernard Shaw which in turn was based on the classical myth.
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RE: William Safire On the written Language

Postby magma » Mon 09.11.2006 1:17 pm

Great speech.
[If you turn the ringer off on your telephone,] there are those who will call you a recluse - but it is better to listen to your own different drummer than to go through life with a ringing in your ears.

I don't understand the draw of cellphones. I hate the idea of carrying around a device that allows people to reach me anytime, anywhere, whenever they feel like it. It's basically just asking to be harassed, and then PAY for the priviledge!

Of course, cellphones are very useful for coordinating outings (acting more like walkie-talkies in those situations), and they can save your live in an emergency. But if I ever did get one, I wouldn't tell anyone the number. Peace and quiet is highly underrated.
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RE: William Safire On the written Language

Postby requemao » Mon 09.11.2006 1:34 pm

clay wrote:(or at the very least, teach them how to use a spell checker).


Eye halve a spelling checker
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marks four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

http://paul.merton.ox.ac.uk/language/spellcheck.html
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RE: William Safire On the written Language

Postby richvh » Mon 09.11.2006 1:43 pm

I just pasted the complete poem into Word, which reported no spelling mistakes, but three grammar problems (the steaks in the last line requemao quoted, and an "it" and an "its" further down. (Hm, seems only to be complaining about capitalization, as if that's the only grammar problem in the poem...)
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RE: William Safire On the written Language

Postby ComradeJoe » Mon 09.11.2006 2:21 pm

I always feel like banging my head against the table each time I see native english-speakers packing hundreds of spelling mistakes in 4 word messages when I, as a foreigner, constantly struggle to keep my spelling as correct as possible. :| I mean, if you can't even spell in your own language... It's sad, really.
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RE: William Safire On the written Language

Postby Sunken » Mon 09.11.2006 2:21 pm

A grammar-checker poem probably wouldn't be as catchy... (Anyone care to try?)
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RE: William Safire On the written Language

Postby Mike Cash » Mon 09.11.2006 2:29 pm

ComradeJoe wrote:
I always feel like banging my head against the table each time I see native english-speakers packing hundreds of spelling mistakes in 4 word messages when I, as a foreigner, constantly struggle to keep my spelling as correct as possible. :| I mean, if you can't even spell in your own language... It's sad, really.


It's very sad.

On the internet, good spelling and well-constructed sentences are all too often a sure sign that the writer is NOT a native speaker of English.

English spelling, grammar and composition skills are sorely lacking among English speakers. I have heard that spelling and grammar are no longer taught in American schools, with something called the "whole language" approach being preferred, but not having lived there in quite a while I really have no way of knowing if that is true. (Other than viewing the results on the internet, of course).
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RE: William Safire On the written Language

Postby Tspoonami » Mon 09.11.2006 8:20 pm

ComradeJoe wrote:
I always feel like banging my head against the table each time I see native english-speakers packing hundreds of spelling mistakes in 4 word messages when I, as a foreigner, constantly struggle to keep my spelling as correct as possible. :| I mean, if you can't even spell in your own language... It's sad, really.

English is my first language, and it bugs me to no end when native speakers write or speak incorrectly... I even correct people who say 'a' instead of 'an' or vice versa... Heh.

I like Japanese because of how hard it is to misspell words... That is a huge benifit of having many characters!

^_^

[click] I guess this could go here

[click] And this... Tamil, the language I understand, which makes it so much easier to learn Japanese Grammar
Last edited by Tspoonami on Fri 12.22.2006 1:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
Sometimes I think that I'm afraid of thinking, and that scares me.
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RE: William Safire On the written Language

Postby Oyaji » Mon 09.11.2006 9:31 pm

Tspoonami wrote:

English is my first language, and it bugs me to no end when native speakers write or speak correctly...

:o lol@Tspoonami




Oops, I meant to say: "You seem to have made a mistake there, which is ironic considering the topic." ;)

I like Japanese because of how hard it is to misspell words... That is a huge benifit of having many characters!


In the past the main problem in Japanese was people making mistakes between kanji that are similar; mistaking 待つ with 持つ for example. In recent years, with the proliferation of computers, the biggest problem is 誤変換. After typing in the kana, people push the key to convert it to kanji, and just leave whatever comes up without checking to make sure it is correct.

After attending a wedding, a person who meant to write about the bride and groom, 新郎新婦, inadvertently comments on the mental state of the priest who performed the ceremony, 心労神父. :o

:D
Last edited by Oyaji on Mon 09.11.2006 9:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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