Mind Fight: Considering the English language s evolution

By Tristan Taylor

Omg, wut r u doing 2nite?” is a common sight in both text and instant messages. To older generations this looks strange, even foreign, but to most students, this is now the English language. Long gone are the days of proper grammar, full sentences and punctuation, replaced in the modern age of speed and technology by “chat-speak.”

Chat-speak, or 1337 speak, is a shortened form of written language in which words are condensed to their phonetic sounds, abbreviations or similar symbols such as “@,” “BRT” or “ur.” These shortened written forms of their actual spelling serve the purpose of saving time while typing or texting, but they have evolved to the point of becoming colloquially verbalized such as “LOL.” Often this 1337 speak becomes a meme for certain subcultures (4chan, anyone?).

Some have argued that this degradation of our English language is actually counter productive as it leaves the next generation lacking knowledge of proper grammar and punctuation. However, let us step back and look through history and see how the English language has evolved.

English can be symbolized as a river. Borrowing much of its dialect and grammar from other languages, such as German, Dutch, French, Anglo-Saxon, as well as Welsh, just to name a few, English is little more than the love child of Britannia’s history. This river has its contributors and other languages “flow” into it. Many of our academic words come from Latin and Greek. English has never been concrete and it never will be.

Whether or not you agree or disagree that steps should be taken to remove apostrophes from signs, it is impossible to argue that English doesn’t evolve.

Is it really such a bad thing that the “Queens English” is no longer the “Queen’s English?” Do apostrophes describing the possessive really dictate so much of the English language that we can’t move on?

English majors fight for their language, but the rest of the world has moved on. If it weren’t for the open-mindedness of the majority of society and their embracing of new ideas and words, then we would still be speaking Old English. And seriously, does anyone besides English majors understand what Shakespeare was saying? No. But do we still love him? Yes. Why? Because he was an innovative thinker and writer who contributed to the English language just as much as Apple has.

The greatest thing about the English language is its ability to change and its all-encompassing nature. We, as its speakers, not only use our own language, but we often allow the inclusion of other languages, including technology, as if they were naturally a part of English to begin with. The evolution of our language is in part due to the increased globalization of our society. Language is not concrete, nor is it steadfast. It is a tangible, malleable substance, one we mold and shape with our minds and mouths.

So if you want to meet for lunch today at Kings Court, or if you want to m337 f0r di|\||\|3r 70|\|ig|-|7, 0r |-|00k up, I would love too. Language changes. Deal with it or learn Hebrew.

Tristan Taylor

Two types of arguments promote change to the English language. The first is negative, in that it requires no action: proponents argue that language is going to change regardless of intervention. The second is a positive take on the first, meaning that actions must be taken to encourage the process. Both are wrong.

To claim that the English language will remain static is false. One does not need to read back far before the gap of time is evident; this is the evolution of language. English is no better or worse than it was 50 or 100 years ago, although certain words have fallen out of fashion.

Misusing a word that was meant to describe a different idea is bad form and the term evolution is a good example. In the previous instance– with no connotation of improvement– it is correct to say that language has evolved. However, to insinuate intent changes the meaning of evolving entirely. It is a common mistake that originates in the misunderstanding of a simple scientific principle by thinking things get better as they evolve. If one means to say the word changed with intent, one should use improved.

Many circumstances have given us reason to adopt new customs in the English language and only necessary changes should be accepted. New technologies, for instance, have demanded new words for which the idea did not exist before. To speak of input, for instance, would have been nonsensical before the advent of the computer.

Two other examples from the past 50 years are the changing of the word gay to mean homosexual and the replacement of the male prefix with a gender neutral term, so mankind becomes humankind. It is difficult to change words to eliminate a negative connotation, which is why Indian became Native, which became First Nations. Almost all minorities have undergone these changes, but the term gay is remarkable for its sticking power. As with mankind, it became obvious to all that the term is exclusive of women and so was changed.

The second argument, the positive one, stems from laziness. To say that a word does not exist to express one’s idea should be seen as a sign of ignorance, rather than a shortcoming of the language. This approach is typically argued by saying that nothing can be done to stop the change, so we might as well embrace everything.

Changes that occur without reason are caused by usages that are not understood or by attempts to increase profundity. When Ron Burgundy in Anchorman misuses “when in Rome,” it is funny because the phrase is no longer connected to its meaning. As with Birmingham (or Tim Hortons), to take away the apostrophe in a name takes away its possessive status and makes it plural. Thus it is not a man named Tim Horton that owned the company, but is named after many men named Tim Horton.

Both examples indicate a problem. Our education system has failed us– the rule is not a difficult one to understand and is even more crucial because it is the type of error a spell-check system is unlikely to catch. Worse still, sloppy grammar is a sure sign of sloppy thinking. Being required to fulfill word minimums in secondary school has led to the verbal masturbation many produce, where common phrases are strung together without an understanding of the ideas they express. Vague writing means the author was not sure of his original intent and so chose words that convey arbitrary meaning, instead of beginning with meaning and finding the best words to represent it.

Eric Mathison

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