How We Write

How we write has changed over the past century, says Mcwhorter. Much of it comes down to expectations, and this makes sense to me since language is a social, negotiated process. There was a time when written language was expected to be thought-out, formal stuff. Examples of this are tired, beaten, rough-edged civil war soldiers and their highly structured letters to home.

Much of the lecture provides examples of written language from journalism and in comparing 6th grade reading between then and now. The difference is in the formality, the preparedness. Writing wasn’t how people spoke, speaking and writing were far different mediums because an informal style of writing hadn’t developed yet. Today, the two are much more comparable.

The old style writing culture, the highly prepared & formal style, comes out of an America that celebrated it’s literacy and use of language, it took pride in writing, it was a country new to being a global leader, and the affords of written communication allowed for high style. Writing is also physically easier nowadays.

Linguistic culture was like food culture – well prepared.

Today, there is much more allowance for style by the electronic word, so much so that writing has broken, developing in its wake a casual side to fill a need for speed in this busy world. Along the way, fast food restaurants and frozen dinners expanded food culture (for better or worse) as happened to linguistic culture. Written culture is still like food culture, I guess, except both have changed.

Today we have more nuance in writing, because we don’t throw away old styles when their importance diminishes – at least not in healthy cultures. Teaching (ESL or all) students style and structure is important, even if the role of high structure in writing has been diminished, as long as we impress on learners that these are starting points, not end points in the use of written language.

Link to the first post in this series is here.


One thought on “How We Write

  1. I think this is so fascinating. As someone with a literary blog, I find this very important for writers to understand. It is so true that writing changes over time, just as the process changes. Very nice analysis.


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