“The Fate of the Sentence”

I knew I liked Martha Kolln. She was quoted in a Washington Post article about those who are worried that a deterioration of the sentence (due to text messaging, etc) will lead soon to a general lessening of critical thinking ability (and presumably the fall of western civilization!). Anyway, she says something like, “I’m more optimistic” and “I’d need more evidence.” I cheered her, because that’s exactly what i was thinking.

Oh, and then the article ends this way:

Wilson Follett, writing in Atlantic magazine, offered proof [of the deterioration of the sentence]. In an essay titled “Death of the Sentence,” fiction writer and literary critic Follett wrote, “To deal with the organization of thought in words is of necessity to deal with the sentence.”

In all languages, he added, “it has been the great continuum.”

The sentence, he declared, “is a structure inherently faithful to the pattern of consciousness.” It is “an instrument inevitable and perfect for the expression of thought.”

But, wrote Follett, the sentence is under attack. “To what stage of vagueness, confusion, or sheer lunacy must the English sentence be pushed to evoke any noticeable volume of outcry?”

Follett’s essay appeared in Atlantic’s October issue. Of 1937.

At the time, he was not concerned about millions of text-messagers and e-mailers killing the sentence. He was worried about highbrow writers — such as John Dos Passos and Harvard University’s Bernard DeVoto — using long, looping sentences that did not adhere to the strict grammatical and punctuation rules of the day.

Back then there was concern that sentences were too complex; today, that sentences are not complex enough. And that’s the way it.

I love it.


2 thoughts on ““The Fate of the Sentence”

  1. Yeah, my friend Chanel says she’s kind of fastidious about text messages and always writes complete sentences, properly punctuated. I don’t. Maybe when I’m faster at text messaging I’ll start writing full sentences without abbreviations. But for now it just takes me so long to create the message, I’m gonna abbreviate big time.

    But, yeah, what a thought: a semi-colon in a text message! It would be like seeing a participial phrase in a text message. :-D

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