Between you and I the English language is going to the dogs

Wednesday 5 March 2014, 5.42pm | VIDEO NOW ONLINE

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The English language is going to the dogs. “Between you and I” is just one of the howlers those of us with linguistic sensibilities have to endure. The distinctions between words such as ‘infer’ and ‘imply’, and ‘uninterested’ and ‘disinterested’ are disappearing. Americanisms such as ‘gotten’, ‘different than’ and ‘can I get..?’ abound. Every office resounds with horrible new jargon such as ‘going forward’, ‘deliverables’, ‘touch base’ and ‘heads up’. Infinitives are split, participles dangle. Language is based on established practice and rules. When the rules are continually (and that isn’t continuously) broken, the language suffers and those who care suffer too.

That’s the line taken by the so-called sticklers in this debate, but they are mistaken according to laissez faire linguists. English wasn’t set in stone by 19th-century grammarians – the kind who decreed it’s wrong to split an infinitive in English just because you can’t in Latin. Language changes but that doesn’t mean it’s in decline. Traditionalists may argue that digital technology has a pernicious effect on language, but in fact children who text a lot have higher rates of literacy. And it’s hard to deny that Facebook, Twitter and email have enriched the expressiveness of our language: ten years ago who could have written “OMG he’s RTd my selfie!!”

Speakers for the motion

Simon HefferSimon Heffer

Journalist on the Daily Mail and author of Strictly English: The correct way to write … and why it matters


John HumphrysJohn Humphrys

BBC Radio 4 Today presenter and author of Lost for Words: The Mangling and Manipulating of the English Language and Beyond Words: How Language Reveals the Way We Live Now


Speakers against the motion

Mary BeardMary Beard

Professor of classics at Cambridge University, television broadcaster and author of the widely read blog A Don’s Life, in which she comments on both the modern and the ancient worlds


Oliver KammOliver Kamm

Commentator at The Times who writes a weekly column ironically called The Pedant, and author of the forthcoming Accidence Will Happen: A Guide to Modern English Usage




Erica WagnerErica Wagner

Former literary editor of the Times. She is Eccles British Library Writer in Residence 2014 and a judge of this year’s Man Booker Prize



All speakers are subject to change.