Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

American English: Evolving or Dissolving Democracy?

Dr. Marinelle Grace Ringer, John E. Beck, Bill Schlientz, Lia Steele.

Walt Whitman burst through the rigid meter and language of traditional English poetry to create free verse: the colloquial rhythm of a poetry reflective of the free and democratic American people. Emily Dickinson took malapropisms into the realm of great poetry. These writers, in fact, changed not only the way literary American English is written, but also literary English around the globe. American English's capacity for adopting new expressions from the chatter around us is one of its greatest strengths.
Nonetheless, in the 1920s, when a joke circulated among the educationally elite concerning the conjugation of the verb to drag, the witticism became so pervasive that, at present, it is actually rare to find an "ordinary" individual who properly forms the past tense of the verb: dragged. The print medium of journalism is perhaps the single worst perpetrator of such violence against American English; however, from "15 items or less"—not fewer—to misguided marketing eye-catchers such as "bargain" not bargain—grammatical error assaults the very form and function of the written word. Given the ubiquitous nature of this attack on basic literacy, it is small wonder that American youth read poorly and cannot write. Under such conditions, will the American experiment in democracy long endure?
Where are its "unacknowledged legislators"? Contemporary American poetry has virtually no audience. The "Ivory Tower" attitude of many writers has left poetry powerless as a voice in the political arena. Language has been so abused that the poet more often than not leaves the reader feeling ignorant rather than enlightened. In this, the most devastating climate in the history of our political system, it is time for poets to come forward and assume responsibility for creating a national common good by rescuing literacy through a shared language.
Yet an even more insidious threat to democracy related to language exists. Quite often what we assume to be "facts," what we assimilate simply by participating in modern culture, surprisingly, are--outright lies to advance certain agendas, select lies of omission to spare us less important details, misinformation passed on incidentally by such benign sources as our own textbooks to homogenize education, lazy or unprofessional investigation to satisfy deadlines, and downright disinformation to propagandize the American public. Simply put, many of our basic assumptions are as flawed as the language in which they are couched.


Dr. Marinelle Grace Ringer  (United States)
Assistant Dean of Instruction
Academic Affairs
Philander Smith College

John E. Beck  (United States)

Philander Smith College

Bill Schlientz  (United States)

Philander Smith College

Lia Steele  (United States)

Philander Smith College

  • American English
  • Evolving or Dissolving Democracy?
  • Linguistic Abuse

(60 min. Workshop, English)