In The Information James Gleick grapples with centuries of information, mediums, context and bits and bytes, while Robert Lane Greene wrestles with language in his new book.
It's not an easy task as language, especially when we include dialects and slang, is constantly moving: just take note of Italian, a language that is lyrical and yet deeply infiltrated by the use of slang, but is no worse off for it. In fact one could argue that it is better off for it.
In a review I just read of "You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity by Robert Lane Greene,' Geoffrey Nunberg notes.. People who readily accept the principles of modern economics, psychology and biology still cling to notions about language that are as antiquated as a belief in physiocracy or leeching. For example, today in the USA we have the English-only movement that would force immigrants to learn English as if English is somehow in danger of disappearing. But no - "Greene notes, English doesn’t need protecting; modern immigrants are acquiring the language far more rapidly than immigrants did a century ago and, sadly, are rapidly losing their original languages in the bargain."
And Nunberg has his own gripe about the misuse of 'simplistic' - "Not long ago I did a double take when I encountered the phrase “refreshingly simplistic” in a music review. When I looked it up on Google, I got hundreds of hits. It seemed to have sprung out of nowhere — these things always do — but it turns out people have been using “simplistic” for at least 40 years to mean something like “plain” or “unadorned.”
Well, language changes, and speakers in a generation or two will probably find my animadversions over “refreshingly simplistic” as tiresome and fusty as I find those by people who still grouse about using “nauseous” to mean sick. (As Greene succinctly puts it, “Yesterday’s abomination is today’s rule.”)
Judging by the review it would seem that Greene's book is one to add to my reading pile.
Meanwhile in my own struggles with language and grammer in a nation that uses the word "gotten," I had a discussion not too long ago about the use of "cannot" or "can not" by James Baldwin in this phrase:
"Whoever pretends that the slave mother does not weep, until this hour, for her slaughtered son, that the son does not weep for the slaughtered father.. whoever cannot face this can never pay the price for the beat which is the key to music, and the key to life."
Here's one comment thread that my post kicked up:
Language is open to interpretation. And then there's The Language of Facebook.