AIF Blog

Is the English Language Deteriorating?

Jan 22, 2019
CATEGORY: U.S.A., Society

Linguists Deborah Tannen and John McWhorter talk about the evolution of the English language at Aspen Ideas.

Young people tend to say “LOL” and “like” a lot. Business jargon — such as “What’s the ask?”— is surfacing in boardrooms. Is the English language deteriorating before our ears? Linguist and author John McWhorter pushes back, saying these modern terms are examples of language evolving. Words’ meanings have always changed and those shifts will continue. “Language is like clouds,” says McWhorter. “If the clouds are in the same position they were in when we came in, something’s wrong.” In this conversation with Georgetown linguistics professor Deborah Tannen, he talks about his book Words on the Move and explains why we shouldn’t be frustrated when language changes.


Aspen Ideas to Go” is a weekly show featuring fascinating speakers who have presented at the Aspen Ideas Festival and other public programs offered by the Aspen Institute. For a curated listening experience, subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts or find an archive of episodes hereThe views and opinions of the speakers in the podcast do not necessarily reflect those of the Aspen Institute.

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