Can language usage be poor or vulgar?

I haven’t been able to write a post for quite a while. But there is plenty to write about, especially in relation to many of the news found in elcastellano.org website. One of the news items is about some Spanish language academies criticizing what they see as “a vulgarization of the Spanish language” by radio and television media in the Spanish speaking countries.

On the other hand I’m reading at the moment a really interesting and magnificent book about the nature of language. The book is “The Unfolding of Language” by Guy Deutscher. By reading this text I have been able to understand more closely some more aspects in relation with the scientific, social and cultural nature of language.

Deutscher presents in his work some very comprehensive analyses about the way in which all languages have historically evolved. How every living tongue used by any speaker is the result of complex and subtle never ending changing processes. I recommend this book to any person interested in getting a good grasp of the fascinating way in which all languages evolve and keep forever changing their intrinsic nature.

The news article I’m talking about here attracted my attention because it fits with the line of thought presented by “The Unfolding of Language”. Deutscher Lists a historical account of how since ancient  times until the present there has been a constant criticizing of the way language is used in the social setting; of how “language usage has always been superior” at a certain point in the past. He presents us with detailed analyses of why arguing about any perceived superior language usage in past epochs exists only in the mind of the person making such judgement.

What I’ve learned from this excellent book is that no matter from what point of view a language is analysed, the only judgement that any sensible person can pass about the nature of language – especially of the particular  ways in which it is used by a large human group – is one of open-mindedness and of critic outlook at the amazing wonder of what we call language.

Language usage cannot be legislated, controlled or imposed in any given manner. If the media presents a “vulgar” or poor language usage can only be the result of the social context where that particular usage is taking place.

What I’m saying here doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be an encouragement for everyone to have a “better” usage of  language as registered in the grammatical rules or prevalent social conventions. The real issue here, however, it’s to do with with the fact that the quality of the language used by any group of people has nothing to do with the assumption that their particular language usage is better, poorer or of vulgar character.

About L. A. Pinel

I'm the founder and Director of Tres Culturas Spanish Language Studio, a specialist Spanish language school in Melbourne, Australia. As a teacher of Spanish I view the study of issues about the nature of the Spanish language in particular and of applied linguistics in general with great passion. I’m also an avid language learner, my other languages are Italian, Portuguese and French; at the moment I'm studying Latin and Mandarin Chinese.

Posted on October 17, 2008, in Culture, Education, Language, Language learning, Learning Process, Second Language Learning, Spanish. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I think that the more flexibility and creativity a language allows its speakers, the more interesting the results! After all, there is something magnificent about “living” languages. Please read my thoughts on a similar topic (should you like) at http://translation-blog.trustedtranslations.com/how-to-kill-a-language-2009-05-15.html. Cheers.

  2. Hola Bryant,

    I’ve read your post ‘How to kill a language’ and I agree with you in relation with the nature of living languages, however, I disagree in relation to the role that language academies play within a language.

    It’s quite true that academies tend to be far too conservative and too overjealous about maintaining what they consider to be the purity of a language, but it’s also quite true that they can contribute to maintain the uniformity of a language. Consider the case of the Spanish language academies. With all their historical, political and social shortcomings, these academies have been able to maintain a standard form of Spanish
    that is not only unique among the most important languages of the world but also a very remarkable deed if you consider the vast amount of people and countries that have Spanish as their first language.

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