Oh to be a linguist, now two point zero’s here….

Don’t you find what’s happening to the written language compelling? It is changing before our eyes, even faster than spoken languages change, and it is impossible to tell what written English will look like in a couple of decades time.

I am not convinced that standards are falling which is the easy and elitist assumption to make. Sure, printed English used to be grammatically correct and impeccably spelled, (unless it was printed by the Gruniad). But this was not because of the journalists’ English teachers. Newspaper offices had shelves of books on correct English to guide their journalists, and even then their writing would go through the ruthless filter of the sub-editor and the compositor, who had books of their own to guide them on the presentation of written English.

Web 2.0 axiomatically provides you with unedited and unfiltered access to what people want to say to you but, as I’ve said, it exposes their illiteracy.

The proportion of literate to illiterate texts we see has changed. We have returned to the Medieval directness of communication not seen since Caxton and the printing press. Now, what you see is what I wrote.

It is going to be interesting to see whether literacy is more valued because it is more needed, and if the written language will take on variances similar to those in the spoken language. There is a doctoral thesis waiting for funding on the subject of txtspk and l33t as dialects.

People already have different voices and standards for instant messaging (where speed is of the essence), for discussion forums (where language is informal and urgent), and for blogs (which are more like show-case pieces). But the written language is changing in other ways, <example purpose=”to illustrate the point”> the use of pseudo-tags in emails, posts or other text </example>. This crosses over. I know of several people who include stage directions in their conversations. *smiles whimsically*

I am trying really hard not to use the word “meme” here.

I guess I am curious about three things:

  • Will literacy be more highly valued by cyber-skiving kids?
  • Will the general standard of literacy be driven down by the sheer volume of illiterate texts we expose ourselves to?
  • To what extent will the written language take on features previously exclusive to spoken languages such as dialect and voice?

Oh to be a linguist now 2.0’s here.

6 responses to “Oh to be a linguist, now two point zero’s here….

  1. Pants. Panta. PANTS.

    I just spent an hour composing what was (since you aren’t going to read it now, I’ll exaggeratte a bit) a lucid, intelligent and well argued response to this. Which has just disappeared into the ether.

    Anyway, to summerise:

    I once toyed with the idea of pitching a research topic on the way that people communicate in online communities to someone. The reason being, it interests me that communication often breaks down because the ‘spontaneous’ and ‘dialogical’ (I know that’s not a word. I put it much better last time I assure you) nature of the medium tricks people into thinking they can write the way they (think they) speak.

    Notwithstanding the use of smileys and stage directions, I suspect that the people who are best and not pissing others off are the ones who know how to use written tricks to soften the message rather than relying on nonexistant on facial gesture and tone of voice.

    I think txt spk is great. I can’t read it myself – don’t get the practice. But for people with their eye in, I doubt they notice the difference. Which leads to crossover. But the thing is, there have always been different styles appropriate to different genres and contexts, and using txt spk for a letter of application would be as wrong as me writing ‘Mr and Mrs Brown request the pleasure of your company…’ to someone on my mobile. I think it’s the mark of an educated person to have different ‘voices’ for different occassions.

    Mind you, standardisation of spelling and such, and possibly even the shock troop manner in which it was drummed into school kids in the 50s was really a response to the sudden mass lieracy of the plebs and the rise of printed matter. Reading is skills you do with your eyes and it’s a lot easier to recognise the word ‘plough’ if it’s always spelt the same. But most of these people were going to be doing much beyond the basic necesities so it was easy to wrestle the language into a neat box.

    Now, I don’t know about ‘valued’, but compared to when I was a teen, there must be a lot more reading and writing being done by kids and, well, pretty much everybody. There’s going to be a lot of rough and ready stuff – in the same sense that I relapse in to bread ‘armpit-of-Hertfordsire’ when I’m down the pub on occasion but practice is good for the writing muscles and there’s a lot of self interest in style and effect – witness all these blogs about how to write your blog too. There is, in fact, a lot more incentive for people to learn how to write.

    Unfortunately, since English teaching in the UK is all about Expressing Yourself and Reacting Emotively to Literature then, rather than on how to express yourself most effectively then, sadly, it’s going to be a self taught thing though and so we are sliding back towards a 21st centruy equvalent of it being normal to spell Shakespere 42 different ways.

    Right, I’ve saved this this time, so the server gods can do what they like this time.

  2. Well, it looked pretty lucid to me. And if it’s any comfort, I’ve just sabotaged my own post in exactly the same way.

    I actually started on this line of thinking because of the discussion of the IM conversation held between one of the e-Vigilantes in a previous blog (the one on Big Brother going Freelance) and the people who stole his friend’s gadget. It starts here: http://www.impulse100.net/StolenSidekick/viewtopic.php?t=396

    Essentially, although they are all “writing” “English” there is such a huge series of assumptions and misunderstandings.

    But the language has an energy and an urgency to it which makes it much more like a spoken language.

    Anyway, I’m going to hit “post” before I delete it.

    Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting.


  3. Well, that’s unplanned writing. The difference between speaking and writing is really that one tends to be unplanned and one not.

    Transcribed unplanned speech is virtually unintelligible to read, yet made perfect sense at the time. Planned speeches or even scripted dialogue are really written English. Do you remember how weird the reality show people seemed to talk when they first were on? I think everyone concluded that they were inarticulate, but in reality we weren’t used to having unplanned speech on TV.

    Hitherto there hasn’t been much opportunity for unplanned writing or having realtime convos in writing. I see what you mean about the style, and that brutal choppiness is a feature of spoken English, although I strongly suspect that face to face communication would either have developed into fighting half way through or the two participants would have softened their word choice a bit.

    Now it’s possible that people might be more tempted to use this style than something which has been crafted to be easier to read, but then these are the people who wouldn’t otherwise write, and so I wouldn’t expect a a major impact on planned written English in general.

    I wonder whether, now that video phones/ internet links are more common people will rever to face to face communication – parhaps through an avatar as I’d guess that the anonymity thing would be the thing that stops people reverting most, or whether this genre will continue to develop.

    Message board communication is the real clashing point: not quite real time, potentially planned written interactional communication.

  4. Incidently, I find myself totally repelled by that whole mobile phone/ revenge situation. But having to restrain myself as the voyeur in me finds it horribly compelling.

  5. I followed the whole mobile phone / revenge thing at rather shameful length. It was, apparently, the only way the girl who lost it could make the communications necessary for her sister to get a visa to come from Russia to the US to attend her wedding. I feel suitably sorry for her, but I found Evan’s puppyish and self-righteous naivete irritating after a while.

    Interesting thought about video phones replacing IM, I’d be sorry if that happened because I like the fact that IM lets me multitask. And also interesting about videos with avatars. Obvious really. If you have Marilyn Monroe take your messages then why not have her flirt with your cyber-lovers.

    The whole idea makes me feel slightly sick, to be honest.

    Interesting stuff, Sol.

    Take care.


  6. I read some of the posts and I think it is a great site. Are you interested in my thorough grief A JOKE! ) What kind of music do ghosts listen to? Sheet music.

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