“The Culture of the Word has Taken . . . a Nose Dive in America”

In his article, “No Self-Mockery, Please, We’re American,” Terry Eagleton, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, makes some interesting observations on American culture and the spoken word and how they affect the way many American students write.

Generally speaking, American students are a delight to teach. Yet they are not always able to voice a coherent English sentence, even at the graduate level. Some of them are easy to mistake for Turks or Albanians who have only just arrived in America and are still struggling with the language. Only later does one realize that they grew up in Boston. They tend to tie themselves up in great chains of unwieldy syntax, overlain with a liberal layer of jargon. Disheveled syntax is true of both genders, but jargon is confined largely to the men. This is part of the painful demise of the spoken word in the United States.

Perhaps the real threat to freedom of speech in the United States is not to freedom but to speech. Perhaps the nation will end up free to say anything it likes while being incapable of saying it. Nor is logical precision a strength of American students. Many of them have had their brains severely addled by an overdose of media. Perhaps they should all have a compulsory first year in which they learn nothing but how to think and speak straight, ridding themselves of the language of texting as a clinic purges its patients of cocaine.

Eagleton’s point that spoken English in this modern world of condensed text messages and tweets can affect the most serious writings is worth heeding.