On the Other Side of Time

Whenever you tackle centuries-old literature in an English classroom setting, there’s a certain apathy towards dealing with the convoluted colloquialisms and talk of those times that the texts evoke in almost every student. The way of speaking that must have been considered completely normal some two, three hundred years ago is completely alien to the 21st century learner reading the 137th reprint of that same “timeless” tale. So while we can agree comfortably on the idea that old speak is difficult to  understand and harder to enjoy, can we as easily bear the possibility of our own speak being completely alien two to three hundred years from now?

It’s a big “what-if” kinda question, but if you can get past the associated futility of such a question, the concern is one worth contemplating. How do we take such comfort in writing the way we do when we’re not being considerate of the future? Much the same way that AP English students wish for these older authors to write stuff in simple sentences and with simple lingo, AP English students two to three hundred years from now – if the AP designation still exists, of course – might be yearning for the same clemency from us.

Of course, there’s no way to predict how language will evolve over centuries. We consider the way present-time editorial and opinion column writers write as professional yet accessible technique, but who’s to say that the inhabitants of colonial-age New England didn’t find The Scarlet Letter to be an easy read? The only thing that would fix any future problem with our current writing style would be the conception of a universal ruler of simplicity: an imaginary set of guidelines that would judge a text’s simplicity and true timelessness based on verb and noun use, syntax, diction, etc.

Certainly, someone has to have thought of something similar before. But should such a concern remain monopolized by the most involved of literary fanatics, or should it diffuse into the general population?

That is the question.

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