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Your grammar is irrelevant — how technology is influencing language

Love it or hate it, our interaction with our digital devices greatly influences the way we communicate. In fact, it has the potential to render the English language as we know it null and void given enough time.

Take a moment to reflect on how you reacted to the statement above. Were you immediately enraged, mentally preparing a scathing comment in perfectly punctuated language? Chances are you are a writer, linguist or purist, the bane of many a sloppy online speller’s existence and, sorry to say it, part of a dying breed.

Did you stifle a mental yawn, go ‘duh’ or silently rejoice over the fact that you can finally give up on that whole you’re/your situation? You are most likely more comfortable with your tablet than a newspaper, haven’t set foot in a library in years and get palpitations whenever you are out of Wi-Fi range.

There are very few conversation topics that pit opposing factions against each other as heatedly as the question of ‘text speak’ and the way it impacts on the way we write. Those in favour cite convenience, speed and the natural evolution of language in their defense, while those against retaliate with arguments about style, clarity and tradition.

Let’s break it down — here’s the highlight reel of both sides of the argument.

The internet is ruining language and this travesty should be stopped:

  • A worldwide slackening of written and spoken language rules and decorum is eroding the foundation of our language.
  • Text-speak and instant communication platforms are making us lazy in the way we read and write.
  • It looks retarded.

The internet isn’t ruining anything — language has always evolved with the times:

  • Technology has always been met with resistance from traditionalists and eventually overcame objections due to its practicality. Noteworthy examples: modern medicine, the automobile, the microwave.
  • The language we speak and write evolves to suit the times. This is why-eth we no longer-eth use-eth English from the 1600s.
  • Following archaic norms just for the sake of it is retarded.

As a writer I am inclined to lean more toward the ‘no, don’t mess up language, it is the only tool I know how to wield’ side of this fence, because its rules and norms form the basis of my understanding of the world. As such, I get mildly homicidal when confronted with the idea that it might go out of fashion to construct proper sentences. However would I make a living if people stopped caring about punctuation and syntax?

I do realise that modern technology and its linguistic quirks has an upside. Texts, tweets and tablets have enabled a massive increase in writing, much of it tailor-made for public consumption, and the immediacy of this mode of communication inevitably calls for a more streamlined form of language. Literacy is a technologically-enabled form of communication. The pencil, the stylus, the printing press, the clay tablet, all of these are writing technologies, just as the computer is. And writing has always been social and interactive (writers seek audiences, readers seek out texts), so it’s no surprise, and probably it’s a cause for celebration, to find readers and writers exploring and expanding the online world and language in the same way they once did with the world on paper, only in greater numbers.

In the end the trick lies in finding a happy medium. There is no point in kicking against the natural evolution of language, but there is no need to chuck the baby out with the post-millennial bathwater either. Use proper language in formal situations and respect the older generation when it comes to any communication you address to them; use txtspk to streamline digital comms and wherever you know people will get it.

In short: DBAD. Simple as that.

Author | Anna-Bet Bester

Anna-Bet Bester
Anna-Bet Bester is a copywriter, translator and freelance journalist who has fractional degrees in Languages, Fine Arts and Agriculture. She enjoys dystopian literature, mashed potatoes and using random Latin phrases to end forced conversations with strangers. Canis meus id comedit. More
  • Daniel

    You’ve written site instead of cite. “those in favour site convenience”

  • Stuart

    Hi Daniel,

    That was down to a naughty sub. The error has been fixed and they have been sent to a suitably claustrophobic dungeon.

    Kind regards,
    Stuart

  • Step Bak Copywriter

    As you rightly say, grammar and spelling will continue to evolve to meet the needs, habits and technology of those who are writing. However, there will always be the need for clarity and many professional organisations will want to remain professional. So, while in personal lives we are seeing rapidly changing written English, this is going to be a much slower process in the business/political/legal/etc world.

  • Cole Rautenbach

    Well, you’d better bring that sub out of the dungeon to complete the job.

    “Chances are you a writer” – really? I’m wondering if the writer of this piece is being suitably ironic in her questioning of the demise of the English language due to the Internetz…. it’s too much. That wasn’t the only error.

    I admit: I’m a GrammarNazi and derive my business from other people’s laziness and indifference. It’s a double-edged sword that pays (very) well. You guys can keep on txtspking to each other and I’ll laugh all the way to the bank.

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  • The problem is that, with the increasing demonization of education and the educated, people are becoming increasingly unable to communicate in proper format even when the situation calls for it. I never would have imagined I would have to tell my college students not to use text speak in their formal papers–but every semester now I get papers with text abbreviations–including single letters and/or numbers standing in for complete words. It is appalling. We are not talking about language evolving–we are talking about intelligent communication disappearing.

  • Sue Browning

    As an editor of both academic and less formal documents, your first para excites me. Speech is primary and we’ve always written differently from how we speak. As John McWhorter says, texting is speaking with our fingers.

    For me, your last para says it all. The ability to write clear formal language will always be needed in academia, professional communication and business (less sure about that last). For the rest, bring on evolution!

  • Howard

    A very good article. . Totally agree, what you’re saying is in fact that there is a new English. But Internet-speak doesn’t automatically make you a writer. It doesn’t matter whether you are writing in SMS, Inuit or Tsotsitaal, you are only interesting if you are a writer.

  • Flaubert

    I have one word for this phenomena, Newspeak. That is all that needs to be said

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