Alphabet to Email: How Written English Evolved and Where It's Heading
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In Alphabet to Email Naomi Baron takes us on a fascinating and often entertaining journey through the history of the English language, showing how technology - especially email - is gradually stripping language of its formality.
Drawing together strands of thinking about writing, speech, pedagogy, technology, and globalization, Naomi Baron explores the ever-changing relationship between speech and writing and considers the implications of current language trends on the future of written English.
Alphabet to Email will appeal to anyone who is curious about how the English language has changed over the centuries and where it might be going.
decreed that the Stationers’ Company was required to identify on the title page the author of every published work. Moreover, works could only be published with the author’s consent. The goal of the legislation was to determine “criminal responsibility for books deemed libelous, seditious, or blasphemous.” 40 That is, Parliament was concerned with establishing authors’ “potential vulnerability to prosecution merely for having held offending ideas,” not with protecting their economic interests.41
parishes in England had no schools at all, and about half had no endowed school.120 Beyond concerted attempts to “keep the poor in their place” by discouraging literacy, there was the simple issue of money. In the eighteenth century, the fees at dame schools (which taught rudimentary literacy—especially reading—skills), averaged between two and six pence per week, far beyond many people’s means. While charity 84 Alphabet to Email schools provided free education in London and some of the
slowing social transformation. Such was Jonathan Swift’s tack in his Setting Standards 101 “Proposal For Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining The English Language,” a letter written to the Earl of Oxford and published in 1712. An opponent of the liberalizing tendencies of the growing (and powerful) bourgeoisie, Swift believed that language was a vehicle for encasing social values. By stopping language change, you could “fix not just language but the future forms of social life.”13 However,
late seventeenth century, Latin became not so much the framework upon which to hang English syntax as the normative model against which English should be measured. It was no longer good enough to describe English according to grammatical paradigms designed for Latin. If English violated these paradigms, English needed to be changed. An early martyr to the cause was John Dryden. The grammatical construction at issue was the lowly preposition. In earlier periods of English, prepositions had been
designed. (We read novels aloud, and we commit dramatic scripts to the printed page.) Despite their differences, all three approaches presuppose fundamental distinctions between speech and writing. These distinctions include level of formality, durability of the message, potential for feedback, and, perhaps most importantly for our purposes, the presence or absence of context. Written language is essentially designed to stand on its own, to be interpretable by any reader, in any time or place.