Few would have predicted that upon entering into the 21st century, the written word would play such a prominent role in our lives. Those of us brought up on pulp sci-fi novels, along with even the most staid of scientists foresaw a future world of talking computers and every type of visual display imaginable populating every aspect of our lives, yet the reality is somewhat different.
Certainly, we’re beginning to see the potential of augmented reality and similar innovations, but other promising technologies have turned out to have far less appeal than imagined – 3D TV being a prime example. Similarly, whilst educators have had to struggle to adapt teaching methods to reach a generation for whom visual communication has overtaken listening, and to an extent, reading – the same generation, nevertheless is equally reliant upon the written word, if not more so, than their forebears.
Who would have thought text messaging, Twitter and constantly updated social network feeds would form such a significant part of people’s lives? Then there’s the phenomenal quantity of personal and commercial bloggers – a staggering number of people are setting down their lives, opinions and creativity through the medium of good, old-fashioned writing – much it has to be said, to the dismay of many for whom that hallowed medium remains sacrosanct.
There are many who openly and frequently vaunt their dismay at at the dumbing-down of language, the proliferation of txtspk and the ‘lack of skills’ that writing for social media encourages – something that manages to filter through to sl, particularly in the roleplayer arena, where you’ll often find profiles asserting that ‘U’ and ‘4’ are not words! That’s perfectly reasonable, but i’d hesitate to say that there’s nothing of merit to be found in modern day usage of language.
Let’s not forget that – no matter how we may personally feel – language, both spoken and written, does change over time. Those of you who are reading this in English will be using a language that has evolved and changed constantly throughout its history and will continue to do so. It’s a language that has borrowed extensively from other tongues, introduced completely new forms of speech, as well as individual words, and has seen words, phrases and expressions change their meaning and drop out of fashion, time after time. No doubt, many of these changes have been viewed with suspicion, even hostility, but that is the nature of language, and the written word we have today is no different – what we may dismiss as substandard today, may well become mainstream ‘proper’ English tomorrow.
There’s no doubt that the widespread use of technology has led to sloppiness – whether simply due to laziness, the limitations of that technology, or our own limitations when it comes to using it. Anyone who has tried to keep up with a lively inworld conversation will know just how easily we can slip into unintentional dySLexia, as our fingers develop a will of their own and the keyboard seemingly rearranges itSLef to make utter nonsense of our typing. Throw in a few overused acronyms and abbreviations and it’s a wonder that we make any sense at all… and, of course, a great deal of the time, we don’t – and are perfectly happy not to!
Personally, i don’t think it’s all bad news – if we can put aside our high standards for a moment and appreciate the, sometimes unintended, richness of expression that SLanguage can produce, then we have much to be grateful for, particularly when it comes to those slips, trips and lexical cock-ups, which are a bountiful source of endless hilarity and mirth. Thankfully, many of the people i associate with in sl are past-masters at the art of poking fun at both themselves and others when such mishaps occur – it’s one of the things that makes sl such a joyous place to be, and it has led to such classics as “Seren licks widows”, and the unfortunate typo that turned a friend’s young angling forays into “I tried fisting as a kid but could never really get into it” – you couldn’t make this stuff up!
Then there’s the inevitable manglings that occur as non-native speakers do their best. As a monoglot whose linguistic abilities extend only as far as being able to say, “Two beers, please”, in a variety of different languages, i have great respect for those who have mastered another language to any degree, and i would never poke fun at someone for trying… but, you have to admit, sometimes the results themselves are pretty hilarious! The same can be true when grammar and punctuation are thrown on the altar of typographical sacrifice… take this unfortunate example i came across yesterday – although i’ve anonymised the details, to protect the poor avatar concerned, i promise, i haven’t doctored the profile in any other way.
Language has a remarkable capacity to embrace change and, even when we break the rules or fail to observe the most basic conventions, it need not necessarily mean that all is lost… sometimes, it works better when it’s broken!