Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Evolution of Language

I envision a future world where written language is a former shell of itself. It will be a world where modern man will look at a book, and think he is reading a foreign language. However, the book in which he has tried to read is written in the English that has evolved from the technology revolution that we face today. For instance, our language is already a former shell of itself, and it is always evolving. Each generation sees changes in the way we speak and the way we write. Can the changes we are currently seeing be considered evolution, or is it the destruction of formal language? Maybe, it is a combination of both.

Some changes in language can be attributed to the Technology Revolution. Today’s technologies have changed language in ways I could have never imagined. Such changes have caused a great deal of controversy between educators across the country. In the article, “I Think, Therefore IM,” Jennifer 8. Lee explains, “to their dismay, teachers say that papers are being written with shortened words, improper capitalization and punctuation, and characters like &, $, and @” (153). I, too, have received many emails and have been involved in many instant messaging sessions in which I would see abbreviations such as brb (be right back), btw (by the way), oic (oh, I see), and l8r (later). For a matter of fact, I have used these phrases and abbreviations every now and again in my electronic messaging. Lee states, “The abbreviations are a natural outgrowth of this rapid-fire style of communication” (154). The rapid-fire abbreviation I am most guilty of using is lol (laughing out loud). I use lol when I think something is fairly funny, even if I am not ‘laughing out loud.’ However, I feel the art of formal writing may be lost forever if we do not set boundaries for the use of the new English language. For instance, once a student turns in a finished essay, paper, or assignment the language should be grammatically correct. Many educators feel the same way. According to Lee, “Some teachers find the writing style alarming” (155). Later she states, “Other teachers encourage students to use messaging shorthand to spark their thinking process” (155). As a prospective teacher, I agree with the latter. I may allow shorthand and abbreviations in rough drafts, journals, or outlines; however, I will expect a more formal style of language in the final draft. It is the educator’s responsibility to teach students when the use of abbreviations is appropriate and when it is not. Most educators are doing so anyway, but with more accepted abbreviations than the electronic abbreviations. If we add instant message abbreviations to the curriculum, we can circumvent any future problems that may arise.

Another change in language, which may cause future problems, is the use of emoticons. In many of our technologically advanced letters, we tend to use these little faces to express our feelings on a particular subject. We may use a :-) to let people know we are happy, :-( to let people know we are sad, or :-0 to let people know we are shocked. The use of emoticons seems to have extinguished many people’s ability to express emotion through writing. “Now that people have apparently lost this ability, they use a crude text representation of a facial expression” (161), said Slashdot reader KnifeEdge when speaking of the inability of people to convey a tone in writing. I agree; I feel the emoticons are overrated and overused. When I see :-) at the end of a simple sentence, I often wonder how happy the author actually is. Are they just a little happy? Are they very happy? After all, there are other methods to get a point across without the use of an emoticon such as words, tone, punctuation, and sentence structure. Because most people have forgotten how to use these methods, most written text is dry and impersonal. Unfortunately, the convenience of the emoticon to cover an array of emotions may lead to the downfall of the ability to express oneself in formal language. The more people rely on these shortcuts, the more difficult it becomes for them to be able to communicate effectively with one another.

Could technology also affect literacy? This is a question that many people should ask, because there is great potential for technology to have a ripple effect on literacy. As I said before, formal language is an art form that may be lost forever. Some people believe the use of speech to text/text to speech software may lead to the downfall of the art of formal written language. According to Dennis Baron, “Link speech to text with text to speech and you eliminate the middle terms: writing and reading could conceivably be reconfigured in such a way that they become an invisible part of the communication” (150). Nevertheless, there is a demand for such software, because it is convenient. Convenience tends to lead to evolution, but do we want language to evolve in such a way? I prefer to take pen to paper over fingers to keyboard, and I am sure that many authors will agree. For this purpose, educators should take an active part in suggesting such methods of communication to their students. Indeed the time it takes to write out an idea generally takes longer than typing the same idea. However, it is easier to gather thoughts and make the sentences flow smoothly when writing out ideas. Because literacy does affect the way people communicate and interact with one another, we must remember that convenience does not always mean better.

Whether we use a convenient form of language such as emoticons, symbols, or abbreviations in our everyday informal language, we should take care to keep them from seeping into our formal writing. Though our language is constantly evolving, we should not allow it to evolve too quickly. Furthermore, we should always remember that the possible adverse effects of convenience on communication and language, and we should remember to use our words to convey our emotions. Finally, we should remember if language keeps changing at the current rate, in a few years we may live in a world in which many of today’s scholars will not be able to read any future literary texts.

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