Phi Beta Cons

The End of Writing

"Get over it, grammarians."

John McWhorter, a linguistic scholar, says that the era of writing is at its end. From now on, communication will be primarily oral. “Get over it, grammarians,” says the subhead in the Daily Beast.

Starting off with Kim Kardashian’s texting style, McWhorter argues that people are reverting to an earlier style in which illiteracy was common and most communication was through speech. (Texting is more like speech than it is like writing, he explains.)

One approach to this switch, says McWhorter, “is to gnash one’s teeth. Another, however, is to accept that the prevalence of high-level writing in the old days was a temporary condition.”

He offers some intricate arguments about why this could be a good thing. As I read his article, I became more accepting of his viewpoint; I might even agree with him if I weren’t “writing-privileged.” (As a linguist, McWhorter may be “orality-privileged,” by the way.) In any case, it’s quite an article.

It was foreshadowed, many months ago, by Tom Bertonneau’s series on the Pope Center site about the return to a pre-literate society (“What, Me Read?”). In contrast to McWhorter, Bertonneau is not happy about where we’ve arrived.

Jane S. ShawJane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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