At one point in time, I believed that modern Americans had dumbed down the English language so far that it would be incapable of recovery. I thought to myself, ‘at this rate, we’re going to be grunting and flinging poo at each other within three generations.’ Mostly my disappointment came from learning that news papers are written at a 4th Grade Reading Level, because the majority of Americans can only read at that level.
Then I realized that only applies to people who read newspapers.
Who reads newspapers? No one.
I was perusing the internet when I came across an article about the iGeneration being the illiterate generation. She tells a story about how her daughter got upset when she accidentally posted something on her facebook using proper grammar and spelling. She was angry because she didn’t want to be seen as a dork for using “full stops and commas and stuff.” I realized after reading it, that older generations actually think we’re like that.
Internet Killed traditional Grammar
I think it is extremely important that we use the world traditional when we talk about the loss of grammar and spelling in the modern age. Language in general is a constantly mutating monster that evolves and adapts to the social and cultural requirements demanded of it. English is a Germanic language at its core, but it has spread so far and wide that it has absorbed bits and pieces of other languages into enough that it is actually starting to break into its own dialects and sub languages. In some cases people speaking two completely different anglophonic dialects might not have any clue what the other one was saying. There is a pretty big difference between Cockney and Ebonics.
In the Internet Age, when we can communicate with people from hundreds of countries speaking hundreds of languages and hundreds of thousands of dialects, who gets to decide what grammar and spelling we use? English has grown to become the primary language of cyberspace, but it is still subject to the rules and nuances of fifty different sentence structures. Can we really define proper grammar and spelling on a global scale when we still argue between the US and Britain over if there should be a “U” in “Honor”? (The answer is no, by the way, the British just want to cheat at scrabble.)
Digital Natives speak Digital English
When I was twelve years old, I was trolling chat rooms all night talking to people from all over the world. I’ve had friends in such far away and exotic lands as Australia, Kyrgyzstan, China, Germany, and Canada. Even back then, fifteen years ago, you could begin to see the emergence of a new form of English. In the early days of chat rooms and bbs boards, acronyms were being established that would define the basis of Digital English. Like it or not, words like “lol” and “brb” have become legitimate words, usurping the phrases that predated them.
I’m fairly certain that four hundred years ago some uppity Elizabethan Grammar Nazi got all uppity when Shakespeare decided to invent the words “assassin” and “fashionable.” Those words usurped a couple of phrases, too. He also started the use of nouns as verbs that has become the norm in Digital English. Really, you can blame Shakespeare for the supposed decline of the English language.
I’ll admit I find it annoying when people replace parts of words with numbers, but I’m starting to understand why. It started out as a way to fit more text into 160 characters (the standards of an SMS text message), but I think it goes back to the whole cultural melting pot of the internet. People all over the world are contributing to the digital language, and by far and away the vast majority of people in the world do not utilize the Latin alphabet. The most heavily populated nations on the planet use logographic alphabets. Even the International Phonetic Alphabet uses symbols to represent sounds. It makes since that a global language would continue that trend.
Making Sense of it All
I don’t think that we’re in danger of loosing site of the English language, at least not the way some people fear. For the most part, my friends and I still speak in (American) English when we talk to each other in person. We’re probably some of the worst offenders when it comes to using n0uveau spellings and grammar. I enjoy reading well written works of fiction, and scoff at people who claim that Twilight is going the be the nail in the coffin of literary art. I’m pretty sure they said the same thing about Steven King and C.S. Lewis.
It’ll be a few generations before language becomes unrecognizable to anyone living on Earth, and I’m pretty sure by then, it will be the “Human” Language. Mostly likely a hybrid of English, Chinese and Arabic. We’ll only speak that because our overlords won’t understand anything besides their own logical machine language. So, for now, just go with it.