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Nicholas Guymon

Mrs. Everett

English 11.3

9 Dec. 2016

The Impetus against Linguistic Simplification: The Vitality of Education and Academic Literacy

Throughout time, languages change syntactically, morphemically, and phonetically.

However, the rate at which languages change can differ depending on the societal impetus for

linguistic change. As described by Robert W. Murray, the professor of linguistics at the

University of Calgary, linguistic changes stem from [s]ociological factors [which] play an

important role in determining whether or not a linguistic innovation is ultimately adopted by the

linguistic community at large (299). Inevitably, complex languages simplify their syntaxes,

lexicons, and/or their morphologies because of societys need for simpler and more readily

understandable mediums of communication; this process is known as linguistic simplification.

Although linguistic simplification may seem beneficial to society as it facilitates communication,

it is detrimental to the advancement of academic literacy and complex reading comprehension.

However, educators in the United States and other English-speaking countries can mitigate the

effects of linguistic simplification in the English language by revising their English curricula in

order to increase students academic literacy.

In order to address the problem of linguistic simplification and how it affects students

academic literacies, it is important to first understand the primary types of linguistic

simplification. According to John H. Schumann, the chair of the Department of Applied

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Linguistics and TESL at the University of California, Los Angeles, linguistic simplification can

be categorized by two primary types of simplification: [grammatical simplification]. . . [and

lexical simplification] (232). It is vital to understand these different types of simplification

because they immediately affect a languages morphology, phonology, and syntax.

Although linguistic change is not necessarily good or bad for a society, linguistic

simplification is detrimental to students academic literacy and fluency because it normalizes

colloquialisms which students then use in their own writing. Colloquialisms, which include

contractions, slang, and idiomatic expressions, are byproducts of linguistic simplification

because they make communication easier and more current. Effectively, when students use

colloquialisms in their writing, they hinder their comprehension of advanced literary texts and

their fluency in a language because they become acquainted with using simpler language and

diction. In turn, more students struggle with comprehending complex language and diction.

According to Donald and Jenny Killgallon, professors in the Odyssey program (a non-credit

liberal arts program) of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, [s]tudents often

write sentences the way they talk, unaware of the difference in conversational syntax and literary

syntax (13). From this quotation, it is apparent that students who cannot distinguish the

difference between conversational and literary syntax indirectly promote linguistic

simplification and harm their own academic literacy because they write informally and use

colloquialisms when academic language should be used instead (13). Therefore, if students have

a tendency to use colloquialisms and write informally because of linguistic simplification, then

educators need to take steps towards revising their curriculum to combat any simplification.

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Educators can mitigate the effects of linguistic simplification by revising their English

curricula to provide their students with comprehensive understandings of grammar. One study, in

particular, corroborates this idea. In this study, researchers attempted to discover whether or not

the syntactic maturity of seventh grade students would grow if they had instruction in sentence-

combining (a process in which students applied and developed their grammar skills by

combining simple sentences into one effective sentence) (qtd. in Andrews et al. 48-49). The

study, which was conducted for eight months, proved that applying grammatical skills to

composition and sentence-combination improved students academic literacy. According to the

evidence collected during the study, students in the experiment group who were given more

sentence-combining lessons acquired a syntactical maturity matching twelfth graders on five

out of six measures (49). They also surpassed the writing quality of the control group of the

experiment, whose members were not taught sentence-combining (49). From this information, it

is highly evident that there is a strong correlation between students academic literacy and

grammar instruction.

If educators teach more grammar, such as sentence-combining in primary schools,

especially at younger ages, they will greatly enhance students academic literacy and minimize

the effects of linguistic simplification. Reinforcing proper conventions at earlier ages when

students are developing the most academically is more effective than at older ages. Since . . .

the early childhood years serve as an important foundation for subsequent literacy development,

providing younger students with a strong grammatical foundation would be conducive to

retaining grammatical skills earlier in a students academic career (qtd. in Green et al.). In turn,

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the retention of more grammatical skills at an earlier age would be instrumental to building

scholarly literacy. Thus, if teachers incorporate more grammatical lessons, such as sentence-

combining, as a revision to extant English curricula in primary and secondary schools, then they

should lessen the effects of grammatical linguistic simplification because grammatical

knowledge builds syntactical maturity and cultivates academic literacy.

Another way that educators can reduce the effects of linguistic simplification in the

English language is by adding programs which develop students vocabulary into their curricula.

Extensive and sophisticated vocabulary is paramount to improving a students academic literacy,

or their ability to read and comprehend complex writing. For example, the implementation of

programs in public schools such as the Powerful Vocabulary for Reading Success program

(PVRS), which enriches students vocabulary through exposing them to new words,

demonstrates a strong connection between an extensive vocabulary and a students ability to

read. In a study performed for 22 weeks in three middle schools around the U.S. which were

each demographically representative of public schools in the country, the results proved that

spending merely 20-25 minutes instructing PVRS on a daily basis in schools improved fourth

and sixth grade students reading comprehension (Block and Mangieri 17). Given the results of

this study, it is clear that cultivating students vocabulary would, in turn, improve a students

reading comprehension of texts, in terms of diction and lexicon. Paired with improved grammar

skills, vocabulary reforms to English curricula would greatly benefit students academic literacy,

and they would simultaneously blunt the linguistic simplification of English.

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Some educators may argue that mitigating linguistic simplification is neither important

nor their responsibility because it will inevitably occur and because social media platforms and

increased online connectivity exacerbate its effects. In reality, educators should understand the

importance of language simplification and feel obligated to make a difference. Whether or not a

teacher educates in primary, secondary, or tertiary institutes, teachers should educate students by

promoting academic writing skills, reading skills, and speaking skills in the hope of promoting

academic literacy. Linguistic simplification threatens the advancement of students scholastic

literacy in almost every respect. Simpler language simply does not cultivate academic literacy,

especially when a student must comprehend advanced works of literature. By extension,

linguistic simplification incommodes teachers because they have to correct the informalities

which frequently manifest themselves in students writings as a result linguistic simplification.

Ergo, teachers spend more time on grammar instruction than literary instruction. In the recent

decade, the problems of linguistic simplification and declining individual literacy has become

more prominent, and this is mainly attributable to the fact that [schools] lack. . .focus on. . .

teaching. . . Standard English skills (Craig 132). Consequently, the time for educators to revise

their English curricula to mitigate linguistic simplification in the English language is now.

Teaching more grammar and vocabulary is an effective way to avert linguistic

simplification because it promotes students academic literacy. By revising todays English

curricula in the United States and other English-speaking countries, educators can help to

safeguard the English language from the detrimental effects of linguistic simplification. In the

past, it has been evident that all languages never stand still; languages will die, become replaced,

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become simplified, or even become more complex. However, educators can help to ensure that

any language, provided that it is instructed correctly and thoroughly explored, will not drastically

simplify and lose its richness of expression in the process.

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Works Cited
Andrews et al. The Effect of Grammar Teaching on Writing Development. British

Educational Research Journal 32.1 (2006): pp. 39-55. JSTOR. doi: 10.1080/

01411920500401997. Accessed 3 Dec. 2016.

Block, Cathy and John Mangieri. The Effects of Powerful Vocabulary for Reading Success on

Students Reading Vocabulary and Comprehension Achievement: Research Report

2963-005 of the Institute for Literacy Enhancement. The Effects of Powerful Vocabulary

for Reading Success on Students Reading Vocabulary and Comprehension Achievement.

Scholastic Research & Results, 2006. Accessed 3 Dec. 2016.

Craig, David. Instant Messaging: The Language of Youth Literacy. The Boothe Prize Essays

2003. Stanford University, 2003. Accessed 3 Dec. 2016.

Green et al. Language and Literacy Promotion in Early Childhood Settings: A Survey of

Center-Based Practices. Early Childhood Research & Practice 8.1 (2006): n.p. ECRP.

http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v8n1/green.html. Accessed 7 Dec. 2016.

Killgallon, Donald and Jenny Killgallon. Grammar for Middle School: A Sentence-Composing

Approach The Teachers Approach. Grammar for Middle School: A Sentence-

Composing Approach The Teachers Approach. Heinemann, n.d. https://

www.heinemann.com/shared/instructorsManuals/E00956/guide.pdf. Accessed 28 Nov.

2016.

Murray, Robert. Historical Linguistics: The Study of Language Change. Contemporary

Linguistic Analysis: An Introduction. Edited by William OGrady and John Archibald. 7th

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Edition. Pearson Education, 2016. pp. 249-306.

Schumann, John. Report on the Simplification Workshop, Hanasaari. Interlanguage Studies


Bulletin, 4.2 (1979): pp. 231-233. JSTOR. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43135233.

Accessed 4 Dec. 2016.