We all know that there has been a steep decline in the quality of everyday English, and you no doubt wonder why and how the decline has come about. Indeed, if you are English-speaking, it is vital for your success and the success of your children that you do have a clear understanding of what has been a disaster in education throughout the English-speaking world. Only from such understanding can catastrophe be prevented and improvement begin.
The most revealing thing about a man or a society is language.
"A man's character appears more by his words than, as some think it does, by his looks."
"As the language is, so is the nation."
Language is supremely important because in dealing with people, a man gives and receives most thoughts in words. Language, being his main connection with humanity, is by far his most valuable possession; but it is not his private possession. If the language is improved by a great write, he and his fellows are richer; if it is deteriorated by a greatly influential broadcaster, he and his whole society are poorer - poorer because their most important undertaking, communication, is being done with a less efficient tool, and if the spoilings are numerous and widespread, inevitably some of that society's important actions will become less efficient.
The main efficients of language, as of action, are Accuracy and Brevity. They, when perfectly harnessed together, carry the complete thought or action in the shortest time.
In disordering higher education and in killing millions of the first-rate youth of two successive generations, the two World Wars made critical gaps in leadership all over the Western world, and for want of the best the gaps had to be filled with inferior people. These inferiors have weakened Western society everywhere, but most harmfully in the schools and universities, where as teachers they have blunted language just at a period when quick and fine accuracy in comprehension and expression was most needed to deal with the tremendous flood of scientific and technical information that is up us and changing the world.
The harm done by these inferiors stems from their weakness in the Humanities, in which they are either insensitive or (the majority of them) almost completely ignorant.
The Humanities have been predominant in forming Western character, feeling and languages. They are carried mainly in language, and their bases are respect for the individual, and respect for facts.
The Humanities pervade the best European literature, especially its poetry and history. As all the various Western nations have a common cultural foundation in the literatures of the ancient Greeks, Romans and Jews, a man badly deficient in understanding of Greco-Roman and Judaic-Christian history and literature is an outcast in his own national culture, for the national literacy giants (Dante, Italy - Rabelais, France - Cervantes, Spain - Shakespeare, England - Goethe, Germany) all wrote in a Christian society that was imbued with religion from the Bible, and they studded their writings with reference and allusion to Greco-Roman myth, history and philosophy, taking it for granted that their readers knew those grounds.
A Western man out of tune with the best literature of his own nation is adrift from the prime wisdom of his forefathers. He is therefore uneducated, and hardly fit to teach rudiments. His ignorance will show in his language. In higher teaching, untuned, longwinded, inaccurate, his language will ill-form, muddle or stifle his ideas, and make him a misleader, not a teacher. Even in mathematics and science (which seem far from poetry and history), though he is highly intelligent and has good degrees, his understanding and teaching of those subjects, whenever he attempts high flights, will be weighed down by poor imagination: intellectually he can never be in the class of the great mathematician of the Western World, who, as shown by the elegance of their language, were all in tune with their national literature.
In the general decline of Western culture, English has suffered most grievously. In the English-speaking countries, a language inefficient and out of tune with all good written or spoken English, a language that would have marked a man out as uneducated three generations ago, is now the vogue in many influential circles: the majority of psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists (who deal with human problems!) use it, and, English being now the predominant international language, this debasement of it is spread the world over by scientific and technical journals and international symposia - to the detriment of millions of foreigners who copy it.
Two great strengths of English, simplicity and richness, stultify the poorly educated who go beyond their ability.