Telle us som myrie tale, by youre fey!
For what man that is entred in a pley,
He nedes moot unto the pley assente;
But precheth nat as freres doon in Lente,
To make us for oure olde synnes wepe,
Ne that thy tale make us nat to slepe.
Telle us som murie thyng of aventures;
Youre termes, youre colours, and youre figures,
Keepe hem in stoor, til so be that ye endite
Heigh style, as whan that men to kynges write.
Speketh so pleyn at this tyme, we yow preye,
That we may understonde what ye seye.
This exhortation to use Plain Language was written by Geoffrey Chaucer (1342-1400) in The Canterbury Tales, The Clerk’s Prologue (ll. 1-56). Chaucer was using a new technology, paper, that had only recently been brought to Europe. 1
It wouldn’t surprise me to learn you had trouble reading his words — I do — as our language is constantly fluxing, growing, changing, adding new forms of expression and discarding the old. We no longer use the kind of ‘Middle English’ Chaucer was speaking, and writing, on the new-fangled paper.
Our vocabulary has changed, and the spelling conventions have changed. Of course the pronunciation has changed.
There are those who would fix our language in stone, fossilise it. They resist all change. Every new adaptation to fit language to our ever more rapidly changing lives is met with outrage and proclamations of disaster.
The media, especially, love to sell their wares by pronouncing on how some new language fad or trend spells the end of civilisation.
We’ve seen a lot of that lately as the pace of technological change continues to accelerate and language responds.
That’s why it’s so refreshing to read a BBC NEWS report that Texting ‘improves language skill’:
Text speak, rather than harming literacy, could have a positive effect on the way children interact with language, says a study.
Researchers from Coventry University studied 88 children aged between 10 and 12 to understand the impact of text messaging on their language skills.
They found that the use of so-called “textisms” could be having a positive impact on reading development.
[Via: @RiverGirlCancun. ]
I learned long ago that literacy is a complex matter.
For years I taught classes of 13 year olds who could barely write their own names. We use specialised programmes of specifically teaching consonant blends, such as ‘bl’ and ‘tr’, of introducing specific vocabularies, and of bringing selections of high-interest books into the classroom and actually helping the kids to read them.
When I left school-teaching in 1984 I moved into the world of adult literacy, where I learned that not everyone learns to read — for many many reasons, not including ‘dumbness’. For some adults written language comes with enormous difficulty. Learning to read and write though changes lives.
Personally, I don’t care much for txt-speak and try to avoid it. I sometimes use it within tweets and SMS messages though because that 140 character limit is challenging.
But the fact is, text-speak is probably here to stay. And if it doesn’t persist, then some other forms will take its place.
I’m just glad to see that researchers have brought us proof that all those reaction-mongering pieces in the media about dire consequences of language change are just so much fluff.
Trust the media. Yeah, right!
True paper is believed to have originated in China in approximately the 2nd century AD, although there is some evidence for it being used before this date. …. The use of paper spread from China through the Islamic world, and entered production in Europe in the early 12th century.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.