The English Language Is Dead… And We Have Killed It.

I was falling down a linguistic Wikipedia rabbit hole the other day but came to an abrupt stop after seeing something called the quotative like.

Essentially, linguists have a term for when we use like to introduce a quotation. For instance:

After we left the store, Sally was like, “It was really cold in the produce section.”

It blew me away that such a colloquial phrase had a term (though in reality, I should have expected this—linguists are really good at analyzing both formal and colloquial forms of language).

But the fact that this term had a technical term was a bit saddening. It lends legitimacy to this particular use. Don’t get me wrong—I use the quotative like a lot.

And after thinking about it, here’s why I think this whole thing caught my attention. And hopefully, this will help explain what this post’s title means.

I like preserving language.

I’m quite fond of preserving language. Not so much in a stuffy way (though that’s part of it ;) ). More because I like preserving history. Let me explain: There are some things in language that get lost that are useful, interesting, and fun. I’m interested in preventing language from getting lost. I’m aware that language changes, and I’m generally okay with natural language change. But I don’t like the rejection of older aspects of language just because they are “old” or running out of style. For example, I’m a big fan of subjunctive tense and like to incorporate it into my writing and speaking, even though it’s running out of style. The tldr is that I appreciate history, vocabulary, and archaic or fading elements of language.

Now, the quotative like doesn’t erase old elements of language, but finding out about the quotative like did remind me how quickly many perfectly helpful parts of the English language are being left behind.

Again, don’t get me wrong—I’m not entirely a stuffy grammarian. The whole thing about not being able to end sentences with prepositions drives me crazy. I like structure and consistency in language (since it generally promotes clarity), but I’m not a fan of silly “rules.”

Recognition of the colloquial makes it less colloquial.

There’s something about the colloquial that feels like it’s breaking the rules or that it’s new and unrecognized. So recognition of the quotative like makes it feel less colloquial. It makes it seem more legitimized, and part of the fun and purpose of colloquial language is that it’s not legitimate.

Another note here is that when something feels more legitimate, it can feel more formal or acceptable in formal contexts. I’m not opposed to colloquial language (though I do love formal language), but I am opposed to colloquial language when formal language would be more appropriate. There’s something elegant and special about formal language when used correctly.

Check out my post about prepositions at the end of sentences

What’s the Title Mean?

Now, to address the title of this post: a twist on Nietzsche. There’s not much of a reason that I’m stealing the phrasing from Nietzsche other than the fact that I like his syntax and phrasing and the drama of the phrase.

But what I mean is that the English language is changing (as languages do), and we are leaving some beautiful elements behind. As I was thinking about the quotative like, I was thinking about language change—I’m often not fond of new language because I’m interested in older elements of English—and how it makes me sad to see some elements of English being dismissed as old or archaic.

My message, then, is to not dismiss language simply because it’s old or new but to look at the value, beauty, and usefulness of the thing. Appreciate language and its beauty, don’t let the elegance of English wane away.

Thanks for reading!

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and please share this post with somebody who would enjoy it.

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