The Bastardization of Language: An E-mail Exchange Between Ed Duvin and Gary Corseri

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ecrivainmeissonierThe Bastardization of Language, the Vicissitudes of Life, and Waterloo: An E-mail Exchange Between Ed Duvin and Gary Corseri

[Editor’s Note:  Remember letters?
In my wayward youth, people–especially those of a literary persuasion–spent a fair bit of time composing letters, often written out in “long hand.”  A few among the tribe of literati even read books of letters, as in “The Life and Letters of John Ruskin”; or, “The Poems and Letters of John Keats”–moaning with Keats over Fanny’s flightiness (in Keats’ consumptive perception), or glad to have his insights on “negative capability.”

That, of course, was long ago, in another age.  Now we rush out e-mails, the faster the better, fleet fingers blithely mis-tapping keys, making for a risible orthography–and who in his or her right (or left hemisphered) mind would ever think of “composing” one?  Especially between friends. …

But, sometimes one gets lucky. … A pearl drops through the electronic ether.  A question ignites a thought, which fires synapses in return.  Then, a little e-mail exchange can work like stimulating conversation–spontaneously and thoughtfully.

The poet, Kierkegard tells us, is one whose mouth is shaped in such a way that when he opens it to cry, he makes a beautiful sound that others want to hear.  Writers, I think, are simply people whose conversations with themselves and with others, most of us would like to overhear.  On some rare occasions then, I’d like to invite readers to the table, to share the repast of good talk.  Herewith then, a little “overheard” conversation between Cyrano’s Editor-at-Large, Ed Duvin, and yours truly.

–Gary Corseri, Associate Editor, Cyrano’s Journal Online.]

A Brief Exchange on Language

Just a quick question. 

Not that we’ve discussed the subject, but it’s manifestly evident from your prose that you share my love of the lexicon.  Not that I’m a purist, but I bemoan the current trend of diminishing all standards of accepted usage.  If a rule is violated often enough, or a word commonly misused, grammarians increasingly respond by simply lowering the bar.  This is hardly a matter of cosmic consequence in a world unraveling by the millisecond, but the bastardization of the language does tend to rile. … Does it annoy you as well?

Ed—
Bastardization of the language does indeed annoy me.

I cringe at the way “like” seems to have colonized every sentence in the teen and twenty-something lingo. (I think it has even eclipsed “you know”!)

On the other hand, one can’t be a purist. Mere change is not a problem. The Beats, for example—Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Kerouac, et. al.–were very inventive, opened up our language from what had preceded them. They taught our generation to think in new terms, new ways. In response to them, we’ve had neoconism in academia for over 30 years now—with movements like “New Formalism” in poetry and “Structuralism” in criticism. As usual, the purists go way overboard. It’s the bastardization of thought that most concerns me. That bastardization can actually smell like formalism.

I like to think that English—this most fluid, flexible, nimble, honed tongue—will change dramatically over the next 20 years, change for the better thanks to the influx of Spanish. I think we’re fated to meld these two beautiful languages into something new and reviving.

But, before we get there, our ears will take a drubbing, and our teens will pop out in pimples before they can express, you know, like, like … the mot juste!

GC

________________
Gary,
Agreed on all counts.  I was referring to the evisceration of language through syntactical abuse and other forms of nonsense, such as the teen lingo that you cite, not dialectical change.  That I welcome.  I also share your belief that the influx of Spanish will, in time, have a pronounced and beneficial effect on English.

As a kid, moving from Socrates to Hegel to Marx, the dialectic shaped much of my thinking.  I recall the first time that I read Hegel’s Philosophy of History, which marked my initial recognition that everything is transient and finite.  There has always been strong pushback to change from formalists, who are only comfortable in the security of familiar surroundings.  When Einstein’s general theory of relativity turned Newtonian thinking on its head in 1915, Einstein was widely pummeled by renowned scientists until the 1919 eclipse proved the precision of his calculations.  The reasons for this resistance are many and varied, as you well know, and Dostoyevsky placed fear of change itself at the top of the list. … The vicissitudes of life are such that making plans often seems like an exercise in folly.

_______________________
Ed–
Thanks for your insights.  Always helpful.

I especially like and feel this: “The vicissitudes of life are such that making plans often seems like an exercise in folly.”

But we are always dreaming/scheming/planning, aren’t we?  And often it seems the most clever, creative, successful among us do the most of it.  When our plans/dreams/schemes are consonant with the world’s drift, we applaud ourselves.  And then, as often as not, a Waterloo arrives–and we might spend years after, unto death after, fighting the same battle, wondering what sort of things we might have done differently.

We’re “curious” beings in both senses of the word!

GC
________________

[Ed Duvin and Gary Corseri are, respectively, the Editor-at-Large and the Associate Editor of Cyrano’s Journal Online.]

6 comments on “The Bastardization of Language: An E-mail Exchange Between Ed Duvin and Gary Corseri
  1. Thank you for running this dialog. I found it most enjoyable and enlightening. I totally concur with the editors. It’s one thing to have a flexible (and realistic) attitude toward the organic development of a living language, and to allow neologisms and other usages that enrich a tongue, and quite another a careless or indifferent attitude toward the framework of the language, its precious syntax. Modern American society, with its constant storm of neologisms, permissivism in the name of individualism, and disparate cultural centers perennially shifting against each other like tectonic plates, is an unrelenting and ruthless engine for the expansion of the culture’s lexicon, but the downside of this vitality is the lack of discipline we observe in the ways Americans communicate, often disgracefully, and without much penalty. While the condition is serious among the young, the unruliness and disrespect for the rules that guarantee clarity in communication permeates all sectors, some to the point of illiteracy. A muddled, self-indulgent way of communicating is not “hip” or “cool.” It is a hindrance to the effective transmission of ideas and emotions. And it is misguided in the extreme to see the demand for the observance of grammatical rules as an attack on individual freedom.

  2. Glad to see the SHOWCASE editors concerned about the “bastadirzation of language”. I see that as a more serious problem than mere disrespect for grammar, and, in a way inevitable, since it reflects the advancing bankruptcy of our culture on many levels, especially its pervasive cynicism and hatred of rules for its own sake.

  3. Lone Ranger and Scott Martens–

    Your comments are a fair register of the perspicacity of Cyrano’s readers! I’ll be on the look-out for other opportunities to run such articles. If we can elevate language and communication, we can elevate our thoughts, and our emotions, too.

    Thank you!

  4. Wonderful discussion on the uses and abuses of language! Thank you.

    I wonder about the Spanish, though. In New York City, where I was born and grew up for a time, “Spanglish”, the Puertorican hybrid ubiquitously surrounding us, was never regarded as anything but a necessary but unequal-to-the-task of assimilating compromise. “Educated” Puertoricans knew not to use it.

    As well, there is a dual linguistic history of the US, one Spanish, one English, which have never had harmonious relations. Discussions with friends over the years on this topic always concluded that USAmericans would more quickly make “peace” with their African-American brethren with that historical baggage over Latinos because the former remains rooted in English.

    That is, the historical animosity between Spain and England is almost embedded in the relations between Latinos and the rest of the country. So I am skeptical when I think about the future influence of Spanish in the USAmerican culture. I suspect it´ll always be an “outsider” phenomenon, resisted and rejected.

    One small note: When I lived in Japan there was a joke among us expats: What do you call a person who speaks 3 languages? Trilingual. What do you call a person who speaks 2 languages? Bilingual. What do you call a person who speaks 1 language? American.

    There´s this strange animosity against multilingualism in the US, unlike anywhere else I have ever been in the world, that I think precludes what you two have concluded. I hope I´m wrong, but that animosity seems particularly vehement against Spanish.

  5. José Tirado’s points about America’s stubborn parochialism and ethnocentrism are well taken. In so many ways, given its riches, enormous population, relative geographic isolation (continental size, etc.), weak neighbors, fluid mosaic of races, cultures, and so on from every corner of the earth (a veritable mini United Nations), the US has long had the wherewithal to believe itself capable of standing apart from the rest of the human race. In that, she resembles Britain’s legendary haughty attitude toward the rest of Europe (usually tossed into one dismissive generality, “the continent”) and lesser breeds.

    There’s no doubt that even today the US —American revolution notwithstanding—still carries deeply in its bosom the heritage of Britain. All of “Perfidious Albion’s” traits are there—especially in the self-conscious sectors that pass for the nation’s upper class—influencing the nation’s cultural syntax and tonality. To people who grew up elsewhere, this is rather obvious from the start. Further, America’s peculiar “anti-intellectualism” harkens back to the famed British tendency to “pragmatism” and circumspection, and consequent impatience with what they regard as the “ideological flatulence” of non-Germanic races. Although no white nation in Europe is fully exempt from the vices and crimes of racism and colonialism, and the Iberian regime in the new world was often cruel in the manner that fanatical imperialists are bound to be, America’s racism, hyperindividualism and conservatism, can be easily traced to the British isles.
    After all, the Brits are mostly Germans and Scandinavians at one remove, and without wanting to offend the great Germanic tribes, their thinly veiled contempt for what they regarded as less than pure Aryan breeds is tragically legendary. The Brits even regarded the French as something of a mongrel inferior race!

    Regarding the chances that Spanish will be “accepted” in this benighted country, the future of the Spanish language in gringoland is still undecided. Nativism and know-nothingism have strong roots in the US (quaint as the notion may strike us today, as late as the 19th Century many whites saw even the Irish as “niggers”) and jingoism is easily stirred up, so it’s not surprising to find plenty of hostility in the general population under a variety of pretenses. But a language that is now spoken by the largest (and fastest growing) minority in the nation is not to be denied its place at the table for long. In that sense, political reality itself will open the road to a more official status, and in any case vast areas of the nation are already operating under terms that we can justly call de facto “bilingualism”.

    Race is not the only premise standing in the way of Spanish assimilation. History also plays its role. As seen in many cultural artifacts including a respectable number of Hollywood films, it’s plain the US inherited from Britain a deeply-rooted aversion if not contempt for “the Spaniard.”

    This is not too hard to explain when we consider the longstanding political, cultural and religious rivalry between Spain and England from the 15th to the 17th centuries, when Spain was the world’s superpower and England a relative upstart among far more powerful nations, a club that included France, of course. As we all know, the unrelenting hostilities culminated in the ill-fated attempt by Spain to invade the British homeland, a feat that not even Napoleon or Hitler replicated later under far more favorable technological conditions. Aversion to Popism and Catholicism, of course, played a large part in this sorry enmity, but whatever the roots of the mutual suspicions and alienation, the feelings hardly improved with the ensuing competition for the new world, and the rise of US imperialism in the 19th century, which promptly targeted Spain’s moribund empire as its first “target of opportunity”.

    Today, with the arrival of millions of impoverished immigrants from the Spanish speaking world, almost to a man economic refugees from the atrocious conditions imposed in their countries by a rapacious native upper class in cahoots with US business interests, the perception of Hispanics in the US is again in a state of flux, with both promising and worrisome prospects in the near future. Prejudice and ignorance will probably take their awful tool, but in the long run some type of accommodation will take place between these two great languages and cultures.

  6. A great summation by Mr. Greanville. I agree with his conclusion: “Prejudice and ignorance will probably take their awful toll, but in the long run some type of accommodation will take place between these two great languages and cultures.”

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