Society’s demise has continuously been blamed on young people for centuries. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, rock and roll music and musicians were considered to be a threat to traditional American values. Today, millennials are credited with the death of social traditions ranging from bar soap, brunch, and banks.
Though each generation is held responsible for the death of some moral value by way of social revolution, the threat of losing the English language has loomed consistently over the heads of its native speakers. Every time a valley girl “like” is uttered or a slang word is added to the dictionary, English inches closer to its inevitable end.
But that’s like, high-key stupid AF. Languages are constantly evolving and using phrases like “lit” or “snatched” doesn’t tarnish language as a whole, it adds depth and variety how people communicate.
Angela Della Volpe, a Cal State Fullerton linguistics professor, said even supposedly dead languages, like Latin, didn’t just disappear. They just changed so much that they became unrecognizable. It’s similar to the difference between Old English and modern English, nobody speaks Old English anymore, but people still speak English.
When people refer to English, they are usually referring to Standard English but in this context, “standard” is deceptive. It refers to a standard to which other dialects of English are compared against. It’s a standardized way of speaking or writing mostly associated with what’s taught in school. It isn’t common by any means to speak Standard English in day-to-day life.
Even the best writers don’t have a miniature editor sitting on their shoulder, whispering corrections or dictionary definitions into their ear while they talk.
Because English is an intricate system of social and regional dialects, to suggest that Standard English is more proper is to ignore and devalue other valid ways of speaking.
Ultimately, the purpose of language is to communicate, so if an English speaker can understand what a different English speaker is saying in a conversation, then despite whatever slang or dialect is being used, language has done its job.
But sometimes language is exclusionary on purpose.
“Language is context related, so it’s embedded in the social context,” Della Volpe said. “If you come up with a word that is understood by the social peers, it leaves out the people that don’t belong to the social group and that’s how language ends up being unintelligible to older generations.”
This is why it’s almost impossible to explain to parents or older family members what “woke” means or why “yass” is now a part of younger people’s daily vocabulary. But people don’t like to feel excluded, which is why slang and social dialects are often associated with a depreciation in the value of language.
“There are always people who complain,” Della Volpe said. “Roman writers complained that Latin was not being spoken as it was supposed to be spoken because people were butchering the language.”
This isn’t to say that language shouldn’t be appreciated or hold value. It brings forth beautiful, dignified poetry and ignites creative, fantastical stories. Without Standard English this very article wouldn’t have been written, but to say that there is only one correct way to speak English is rude, and at best elitist.
Language is an art form in its own right, and just like there are different genres of art, there are different forms of communicating. If one type doesn’t meet certain standards, that doesn’t mean it’s garbage. It’s just a version of creative expression that isn’t standard.
Young people are not destroying the English language. They’re simply coming up with their own unique form of language that expresses their emotions.