I have heard the same complaint that Timothée has from several sources. One person even told me that he had a constant dread that he was subtly mis-understanding Greek because of all the archaic 19th century words in the LSJ. As a 36 year-old native speaker of English, I don't personally find much ground for this. I grew up reading things like Burton's Arabian Nights, Kipling, and the Bible (in a translation with a fairly strong 19th century stamp). Shakespeare never gave me the slightest trouble growing up, and I read him with pleasure in school. As an adult, my reading probably dips into the 19th century as much as it does into the 20th.Timothée wrote:To me it feels always weird when native English speakers complain that a work has an archaic Klang about it.
In fact, I think that the "purge archaic language" movement is often socio-political wherever it is found. This is certainly true in the land of Bible translation. The war there isn't completely about making the Bible easy to understand for people with an 8th grade reading level. It never will be that. It's about the contests between fundamentalism, traditionalism, and individualism, which are all at loggerheads with each other. In the schools, something similar goes on in many subjects. Like new political regimes, professors establish legitimacy by differentiating themselves from and by dismissing the past. With the expansion of education to less elite parts of society, the necessity to prove legitimacy increased. The general tone becomes one of constant snark about the past. In fact, if I had to pick any one central feature about the 21st century media in general, it would be this endemic snark. The kids have been picking it up from an educational experience that makes it a constant feature. I can't tell you the number of classroom lectures that I have attended -- at all levels of education -- that follow the format of "here are the stupid things that we used to believe, and here are the smart things that we believe today, don't you feel smart too now?" The social sciences and humanities tend to have it the worst, because the crisis of legitimacy is greatest there. And you see a constant refresh of terminology and vocabulary every generation (which you don't see so much in physics or mathematics, where the language change is mostly additive instead).
If you can force the other side to adopt your terminology, you have instant legitimacy. You might think that the study of classical languages would be mostly immune to this sort of thing -- and in fact this unfiltered glimpse at the language of the past the best reason to study classical language, in my opinion -- but as subjects taught in universities, classical languages are not immune. The crisis of legitimacy is probably greater for classical languages than for any other subject. At one time the main focus of education was language acquirement, but it no longer is today.*** So there is a huge crisis of legitimacy for anyone teaching the classical languages, especially when all the fruits of historical learning are all free in libraries and on Google Books. How do you publish a book in that stifling atmosphere? Anything that can be done to demean the past has to be done. Criticizing "archaic language" is a fairly good line of attack. Of course, there is no subject where victory over the past can be more Pyrrhic than here.
*** Is this strictly true? All real education is language acquirement, whether in math or science or wherever. Facts are easy, technical language and vocabulary are hard. Pick out the useful parts of your education and they are the parts you spent learning some type of language or vocabulary. The useless parts were generally the times that you weren't doing that.
EDIT: Removed a few lines that weren't really on topic.