Sunday 3 January 2010

ANFSD: The Present Isn't Always Perfect

If anybody has had doubts about the decline and fall of the English language over the past two or three decades, current media (print and online) should clear that up very nicely.

If I see another reviewer who starts off with "I've had the (Product X) for a week and I am loving it," it will be very difficult to restrain myself from throwing a brick through the display. There's this widespread tendency to use the present perfect in place of the simple present.

Part of this, I understand, is simple cultural differences. Many of these writers either come from or work in an environment heavily influenced by South Asian variations of British English. Somebody in a position of educational or institutional power, somewhere along the line, decided that if the "present perfect" was indeed "perfect", then it was better to use that in any conceivable sentence.

This influence is relatively new in the larger English-literate world. I don't remember seeing this style when I started writing seriously 30 years ago, or even during the time of my first real multi-national distributed development team back in the early 1990s. People had varying levels of language ability, just as we all had varying abilities in other areas. One of the great things about those early teams was that each participant clearly understood that they had something to learn; that other teammates had skills and abilities that they could learn from. Since that time, the offshoring/outsourcing industry has devolved into what too often seem a series of sealed bubbles bumping against each other, but that's a topic for another post. Just let me say that, as has happened so many times before throughout history, language patterns mingled (or 'mangled', depending on your views). Absent widespread, effective English language instruction in American schools over the last 30 years (yet another topic unto itself), many younger American technical folks adopted the "new", "cool", "exotic" English usage borrowed from their peers. And since the software (and Web) industry is unrelentingly ageist, at least as much as, say, theoretical physics (where, I've been told, you're over the hill by your mid-20s), what the "cool kids" were doing quickly became the norm for the industry.

It may well be that "all this has happened before, and all this has happened again." That does not make it any more comfortable, or comforting, to those who are aware of how imperfect the present really is.

Oh, and by the way, Happy New Year! One is sorely tempted to say "It can't possibly be as bad as 2009 was..." Don't give in to the temptation. $DEITY tends to take that as a personal challenge... one that you or I can't possibly win.

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