English, like most other languages, has changed drastically throughout its history and as is often the case when in the middle of such change, many people cry out that this change is in fact destruction. That the language is being “mangled” or “ruined”. In spite of these dire warnings, the language has continued to survive through these changes and in fact see its usage grow tremendously over the past couple of centuries. Nonetheless, new developments in the language still continue to cause panic..


Most often, this fear of linguistic change surfaces when the new direction is triggered by cultural or social change. And such change can in fact spell the demise of a language, as cultures merge and clash and dominate one another, languages can transform into new ones or disappear into obscurity and eventual disuse. There are few examples, however, of a language being eradicated by a technology. Yet it is linguistic change brought about by new technology that has today's prescriptivists quaking with rage and fear.


Shorthand and abbreviations in written communication is nothing new, and when new forms popularized through the Internet – particularly through instant messaging and chatrooms - became more mainstream in the 1990's, there was some concern over the effect this might have on the direction of the written language. In the late 90's and early 00's, new forms of abbreviated English, designed for use in text messages on mobile phones, became an extremely common mode of written communication for much of the population, especially young people. Beginning in Asia and Europe and spreading to the US more recently, the use of text messages as a mainstream mode of communication has led to the usage of the form in more than just phone messages - it has become common in emails and online conversations, casual notes and, to the horror of many, academic work.   The widespread use of text messaging is clearly having an effect on the direction of the language as a whole, to the dismay of those with a more conservative attitude about language.  The Daily Mail's John Humphreys likened it to a barbarian invasion:


It is the relentless onward march of the texters, the SMS (Short Message Service) vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago.
They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped. 


Humphreys' melodrama aside, the spread of text message influenced abbreviated English in arenas outside the realm of telecommunications in the first half of the decade initially led to a wave of panic about the direction the language was taking, but which has in more years calmed down as more people grow to accept linguistic changes brought about by new technology - or at least, certain elements of it.  In 2004, author Lauren Myracle published her novel ttyl (Talk to You Later) - a novel which is written in the form of an instant message conversation between teenagers.  The novel was the first in a series which has become both popular and controversial.  The fact that the controversy is centered more around the plot than the language is telling, although references to the book's use of "internet slang" and the potentially negative effects this has on our language continue to be made.  More recently, some schools have begun changing their attitude towards technologies which shape language, with some schools even embracing the medium.      


As the decade draws to a close, the fear of this havoc that internet chatrooms and text messages were, we were warned, sure to wreak upon our language seems to be subsiding.  The use of text messaging and similar abbreviated English is as widespread as ever and yet the language lives on, with new books, stories, articles and poems being written every day employ the full depth of the language's beauty.  It is only a matter of time, however, until some new technology enters widespread use which will further change the way the language is written.  And it's inevitable that we'll see a flood of articles, editorials, and books by those who dread linguistic change.  But what exactly do we have to fear? Can these changes really ruin a language?   


Message Edited by Jon_B on 05-05-2009 09:50 AM
by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎05-05-2009 08:53 PM
Thought provoking, Jon. One of my favorite topics, especially as it relates to the influence on kids' and teens' writingI'm thinking  there are few occupations that don't require some written language skill, as well as a modicum of keyboard/tech literacy. As long as there are young people who want to learn and excel at any level -- and get paid to work, especially in fields they enjoy -- there will be young people learning to write 'good English.'  Pew Internet & American Life Project and the National Commission on Writing went to the source and asked teens and their parents about tech and writing. The results are fascinating and perhaps heartening for those dreading ruination of English as we know it. Again.
by Moderator becke_davis on ‎05-06-2009 02:56 AM

I have strong feelings on this subject.  Language is a living thing, and it changes to reflect societal changes.  If the language doesn't evolve, it stagnates and eventually dies.  Purists may want to keep common usage "correct" and devoid of those factors that mangle or ruin it, as Jon describes.



Language is more than just a way of communicating, it is a code that helps us identify friend or foe, and to distinguish those who share common interests from those who are outside the fold.  Teenagers, ethnic groups, business men and women, politicians, sportscasters -- all use their own "secret languages" to weed out those who don't fit.  Slang is just a way of encoding language to reflect the values and shared interests of different groups, and drawing a clear line between "us" and "them."


Language has always been used to separate the "haves" from the "have-nots," the intellectuals from the uneducated.  Technology-based language is just another way of drawing that line between those who get it and those who don't.


On the one hand, these "secret languages" divide us.  On another level, it's a way of saying "we're the ones who decide who's good enough to belong," like street gangs using language incomprehensible to outsiders.   Language as the ultimate equalizer. 

by Peeps on ‎05-10-2009 09:22 PM
So happy to read a reasonable stance on how technology influences language. I'm tired of journalists forcing extreme stances for the sake of readership. Humphreys should seriously rethink his use of rape in regards to vocabulary--not only is the analogy in poor taste, but it isn't even accurate, just inflammatory.
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