On a totally unrelated subject (OATUS)… Did you know pretty much everything written in English is created from just 26 letters, 16 punctuation marks, and 8 parts of speech (otherwise known as “word classes”)? Sure grammar, syntax, and other structural components play a role, but all of it begins with this relatively small set of base material.
Since it developed, sometime around the 5th or 6th Century AD, it amazes me how much the English language changes from one generation to the next. Many of our commonly used words and phrases will become arcane in a relatively short time.
Many things influence such linguistic modulation. Religion, migration, and cultural change can all have an effect. Over the last 40 or 50 years, however, I think technology has had the greatest impact on modern language. It makes sense, I suppose, when you think of how quickly we went from quill pens to cell phones.
Hand-written letters gave way to the telegraph, and then the telephone, email, texting, video calls, and on and on. There are certainly more innovations ahead. Every advancement causes an inevitable alteration in the language, generally because of the transmission method. Sometimes, it can happen right before your eyes.
Recently, I was typing an urgent email and just about to hit “send” when I realized I’d slipped into some kind of alien shorthand. After the period at the end of the first sentence, the letters, “LOL” appeared. Where had that come from? Later, I noticed I had signed the quickly scribbled note with, “TTYL.” Huh? What’s going on? Did I have a stroke? Maybe I’d just gone mad.
Fear not, faithful readers. What there is of my brain is still intact. It turns out I was in such a hurry to send the message that I started writing it in text language. Oh, dear. There are certainly times when a phone call is inconvenient, and a text offers a quick solution. I was just surprised my expeditious typing turned into the CliffsNotes version of the intended message.
Texting has become a pliant and practical way to get your point across, in just a few characters. I would imagine abbreviations and dropped letters resulted from the limited keyboards on most early SMS-capable mobile devices. A quick “BTW,” “BRB,” or the like, was generally enough to convey the intended sentiment.
One thing that drives me bonkers about texting, however, is when people drop vowels to save space. That’s not so odd, I suppose. Some written languages use dots and dashes to indicate vowel sounds. But then, I am a writer. I need my vowels! (Calm down, Gery. The vowels are safe, sometimes even, Y.)
Efficient messaging is certainly nothing new, either. You might consider the telegraph the previous century’s version of texting. Like texts and social media shorthand, a telegraph was made up of brief quips, just enough to get the point across. Sound familiar? Except that you paid by the word for the service and your message was printed and hand-delivered to the receiver. That would certainly shorten up some of endless text rants, wouldn’t it?
I’ve grown up around computers and technology. I’m comfortable and patient with all the technical faults and unrealistic expectations of users who bought into some life-changing sales pitch. But I still find myself uncharacteristically resistant to the linguistic changes brought about by such advancement.
It’s also worrisome that, regardless of education level, some people can text far more proficiently than they can form a proper sentence. It’s important to remember, however, that brevity without concision is just confusion. You need to have a good grasp of the complete language before you can begin to use an abbreviated form of it. I certainly hope schools won’t eliminate teaching good language skills in favor of text lingo.
I’ll have to better manage my non-text use of the “language of LOL.” Texting can be efficient and fast. We need to accept that every language exists in a constant and evolutionary state of change. I think we, as a society, didn’t notice the transformation as much because, in the past, it happened over a much longer period.
Now it’s just happening so fast that we experience it.
Gery Deer is a Greene County resident and columnist. He can be reached at www.gldcommunications.com.