The Devolution of Language (oh noes!), Now With More Cats

on Tuesday, August 20, 2013
i can haz write?
The written word is not what it once was. Or, perhaps more accurately, society no longer knows how to use to its full potential. The decline of language can be attributed in large to the desire modern cultures have for instant gratification. Aldous Huxley referred to modern humankind as the Great Abbreviators, saying, “none of us have the wit to know the whole truth, the time to tell it if we believed we did, or an audience so gullible as to accept it" (Postman). The modern world's desire for brevity is never showcased better than in the so-called chat-speak used so commonly by today's youth. Initialisms and abbreviations are all well and good when used is the right way - namely to keep one's thumbs from falling off from too much texting. It is when this chat lingo finds its way into speech, and, even more horrifyingly, academic or professional writing, that our discourse begins to suffer. I have never personally taken pleasure in using chat-speak, and would never have even considered using in a school setting, and therefore was shocked when, a few years prior, one of my fellow students had to be told to refrain from doing just that. Even the writing those individuals who manage to use complete words are not exempt from the decline of language. Despite the efforts of hordes of qualified teachers, many people enter high school, college, and even the professional world without the ability to write well. OMG, rite?

catz rule dogz drool lol txt it
So what is the starting point for this linguistic downward spiral? As Neil Postman wrote in his eerily prophetic book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, the invention of the telegraph, and the subsequent invention of the television are largely to blame for this phenomenon. Postman says that the ability for instantaneous communication, and therefore instantaneous entertainment, has essentially reduced our tolerance for activities that take more that an ounce of brain power, and has created an expectation of entertainment value in all areas of our lives, including in our education system. And if we cannot muster up the effort to flex our craniums in order to learn more about the world, then heaven forbid we converse using complete words and sentences.


What comes next, dear readers? Are we as a race doomed to continue our descent into illiteracy until we are once again forced to growl and bare our teeth at each other in order to communicate. Perhaps not. In the words of George Orwell, "modern English...is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step" (Orwell). Thus, I implore all of you: leave the text-speak to texting and learn a little something, and together we can save the English language.
Never fear! Super Cat is here to save language as we know it!

2 comments:

Angela Sleeper said...

Nice, Lindsey! I love how you gave so many examples about why people developed chatspeak. The way you wrote this made it very interesting to read and it shows you really knew what you were talking about. You also used the quotes really well to help prove your point! (And the cats are adorable, to top it all off.)

J.J. Howard said...

You bring up a good point about the way that chat-speak creeps into more formal modes--such as academic writing.

I don't think young people are being taught to code-switch, to use different modes of communication in different situations. It's an important skill in both written AND spoken communication. But it takes practice. And we're all much too busy surfing the web for that.

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