English is dying. Stabbed in the heart with LOL stakes. Knocked upside the head with ROFL clubs.
The alleged perpetrators: mumbling, angst-ridden teenagers who’d rather download the latest illegal music than write a comprehensible sentence.
Editorials and blogs across the Internet proclaim that texting is ruining the English language. The reports of the death of our language, though, are greatly exaggerated. Much of the hype—especially the disdain for teenagers and texting—is perpetuated by older generations still clinging to the language of their youth.
How long before young people start submitting term papers riddled with text slang, they say, or writing business reports that, like, LOL about next quarter’s projections?
Researchers in Canada set out to study how much damage texting was doing to the crumbling foundations of the English language. They examined real text messages from around Canada. The results will knock many curmudgeons off their Oxford English Dictionary high horse.
People don’t actually use text slang that often. OMG!!! Some of the researchers’ findings:
- “you are” occurred as frequently as “u r”
- “please” & “thank you” were more common than “pls” and “thx”
- “see you” was four times more common than “c u”
So don’t expect students to write their essays with cell phones any time soon. It’s true that the younger generation tends to be creative and efficient with English. These traits, though, give our language its hallmark vibrancy and staying power.
Young people, however, can still adapt their style to fit the situation. As the researchers put it, “You don’t speak the same way to the prime minister as you do with your friends around a beer.” Not quite ROFLMAO, but definitely LOL.
This is not the first time that logophiles have spied barbarians at the gates of the English language. In recent years, though, technology—including email, Twitter, and Urban Dictionary—has been frequently blamed for our inability to communicate properly.
Here are a few more scapegoats for our alleged language dysfunction.
Americans Destroyed the English Language
With a vast ocean between the two countries, it was unlikely that the Americans and British would speak the same way forever. Technological advances in the early twentieth century—such as the airplane, audio recordings, and movies—increased the exposure of the British to the distinct American dialect nurtured among the wilds of the New World.
Not everyone was pleased with the distinctive American way of speaking. In the 1920s, the Royal Society of Literature of London decided to form an International Council of English to preserve proper speech. This only “added fuel to the flame of resentment against the American destruction of the purity of English speech.” (1)
Advertising Damaged the English Language
Since it first aired, Mad Men has elevated advertising. The television show erased the image of the alcoholic ad man seen in Bewitched, and replaced it with a more glamorous, yet still alcoholic, version. In the 1960’s, though, some raised their grammatically correct voices against the assault of advertising on language.
“I especially resent the way advertising is ruining the English language and making superlative meaningless, since no intelligent person really believes the extravagant claims made by advertisers.” (2)
Microsoft Ruined the English Language
The English language and technology are often at odds. Like all technology, computers can be used for good or evil. In Microsoft’s case, many think it is usually for evil, especially when it comes to language. “The company’s word-processing program, Word for Windows 95, is ruining the English language.”
While probably designed with the best of intentions, the language features of word processors sometimes fall short. The “grammar check has a command of English equal to that of Tarzan.”
Language Is Killing the English Language
Like unruly Olympians, new usages arise spontaneously and threaten to kill the titanic English language in its sleep. Many people fight the overwhelming tide of “incorrect” ways of speaking. Often, resistance is futile. Just ask the Titans in Ancient Greece.
“No development contributed more dramatically to the death of the language than the sudden and startling ubiquity of the vomitous verbal construction ‘reach out to’ as a synonym for ‘call on the phone,’ or ‘attempt to contact.’”
Why fight the ever-evolving English language? Embrace the creativity of communication that gives language its power. Try one of these writing prompts.
- Collect several text messages and use them as the basis for a poem or short story. The texts can be related, but try using ones from disconnected conversations. This often generates more ideas.
- Advertisers are experts at manipulating, shaping, and taking liberties with language. Collect several examples from magazines, product labels, and Internet ads. Imagine that all of the ads are targeting one person. Use the underlying messages of the ads to flesh out your character’s story. Express this as a poem or short story.
- Felix Orman, “Observations on Reform of the English Language,” New York Times, August 21, 1927.
- Robert Aldan, “Advertising: War Drums on the Potomac?” New York Times, February 26, 1961.
- Ralph Schoenstein, “Grammatically incorrect,” New York Times, Jun 13, 1998.