Take my word for it, the English language is facing destruction

The long, slow decline of our primary method of communication shouldn’t concern only linguistic pedants. We are allowing a perversion of meaning to creep into our language, where words are used for control, rather than persuasion. That’s how dictators operate, says Robert Fisk

Sunday 07 October 2018 11:02 BST
(Dilruba Tayfun)

Three days after I delivered the First World War Armistice memorial lecture at the Cloth Hall in Ypres almost a decade ago, I received a letter from Margi Blunden, the daughter of that great poet Edmund Blunden – who spent more time under fire than Wilfred Owen or Robert Graves or Siegfried Sassoon. She had long been concerned, she wrote from her Norfolk home, “that due to the digital age, the meaning of language used by the First World War writers may well become lost to the modern generation”.

She had recently given a talk in Oxford to a group of teachers about her father’s fearful, occasionally humorous, but translucent book about the 1914-1918 conflict, Undertones of War. “Not many had read my father’s book,” Blunden lamented to me, “and some confessed to giving up reading it because it was too difficult to understand. My task that day was to help them with some of these difficulties and show them a way into reading his prose. I feel it is very important to encourage the modern reader to persevere and perhaps in this world of instant gratification this is a technique which will have to be taught.”

I was shocked. Did these British teachers, holding in their hands the words of one of our greatest and bravest writers, really find them too difficult to understand? Readers, a test. This is Blunden writing 90 years ago, about his arrival at the front in Ypres. Do you find it hard to comprehend?

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