There seems to be a slight consensus that laziness is a contributor to the reason why people are becomming 'sloppy' in the use of the English 'language'.
In a sense, to describe English as a language is only a half-truth; without going into too much detail (most of which many here would already know) English is, and always has been, a bastardised mish-mash of many different languages, including languages which are no longer spoken. This brings me to my main point.
It's all very well to say that laziness is a contributing factor, but I think that to say this disengenders the main use of a language - that is, to effectively communicate.
The reason English is so frighteningly difficult for people is that every single rule enforced on the language is broken on at least one occasion, and it takes repetitive use of the language to even identify those problems. To take a point in case, the past tense of 'hang' is 'hung' for pictures, but 'hanged' for people who have made an unfortunate visit to the gallows. However, if someone said to me that such and such recently hung themselves, I would know exactly what they meant. The point has been delivered effectively. Thus, the language has worked, even though it was incorrect in semantic technicality.
I think, realistically, that there is no need for technical accuracy in any area but formal writing, such as government documents, contracts and debates (such as this one). This type of use of the language can hardly therefore be classified as the standard norm. I certainly don't talk anywhere near how I write - if I did, I'd be viewed with hobnobish scorn, and rightly so.
This leaves us in a conundrum; what level of English do we teach? Do we bother with, "i before e except after c" as were taught in our own school life? Is it right to insist on perfection in language, when, for all intensive purposes, the vast majority of native English speakers simply don't have that standard in their own everyday life?
And therein lies yet another irony that we have somehow convinced ourselves is neccessary - attempting to teach people english at a level higher than we ourselves use it.
English is one thing and one thing only - a tool. Now, I am hopeless at hammering nails into a wall, but I'm sure that, given enough time and patience, I'd manage to be pretty good at it - never as good as a trained carpenter, surely. However, as a friend of mine likes to say, "good enough for jazz".
So therefore, we should perhaps be aiming for the "jazz" level of English from our students. Either that, or we should be reassessing our society's own level of English use.
- Re: irony -- Moe -- 2009-02-23