The complex history of English manifests itself in various ways. It contains a multitude of loan words both from the English having been conquered, and having been conquerors. The commercial, religious and political history of the English is all evident in our language. Indeed, it can be said that English is a “diverse” language for that reason.
But the massive flood of non-English speakers, into traditionally English-speaking countries, has taken its toll. Similarly, the increase (and popularity) of “ebonics” and “gangsta culture” has eroded the finer aspects of our language. Words that are not associated with the lower classes are falling by the wayside. For example, the pronoun “whom” has been dying a slow death.
I’ve been in regular contact, recently, with a black man who works for a financial institution. He holds a position that requires him to communicate with the public, yet his mastery over the English language is rudimentary. He says “ax” instead of “ask,” he can’t pronounce “relevant,” and he struggles with many terms that we would expect to be used by those with a high school diploma or better. Whether he gained his position through affirmative action or not, such institutions have a social obligation to make sure that those charged with public communication can actually speak English correctly.
English is not simply a mode of communication; it’s living testimony to our history and cultural heritage. It pains me to witness the finer aspects of this noble language fading away.
One casualty of this onslaught is our irregular plural nouns. Some English-speakers shudder when they hear that Arabic has a multitude of plural forms; they think, “how do people remember all these?” But English also has a multitude of plural forms. Those of us who were raised speaking English often forget this. Here are some examples of irregular forms:
Elf ————— Elves
Man ————– Men
Foot ————– Feet
Mouse ———– Mice
Child ————- Children
Deer ————— Deer
Amoeba ———- Amoebae
Genus ————- Genera
Cactus ———— Cacti
Datum ———— Data
Index ————- Indices
Crisis ————- Crises
Phenomenon — Phenomena
It’s safe to say that most English-speakers, at least in the U.S., get confused between “phenomenon” and “phenomena.” Those of lower education, lower class, and foreigners tend to become vexed when it comes to such irregular plurals. To make themselves understood, they’ll often default to simply adding an “s” to form a plural. Thus we find the increasing popularity of “indexes” instead of “indices,” “memorandums” instead of “memoranda,” and “syllabuses” instead of “syllabi.”
The death of irregular plurals starts with the most obscure, and proceeds to the more common. I predict that in the future, perhaps within the lifetime of some readers, we’ll hear forms such as “childs,” “mans” and “foots.”
Diversity brings about a state of affairs where everybody is eventually reduced to the lowest common denominator. Forcing together people of different social classes, races and ethnicities can only lead to the dumbing down of language.