OMG intarweb litricy FAIL

Paul Raven @ 23-11-2010

It’s been a while since we’ve had one of these, but they never entirely go out of fashion: the English Spelling Society commissions a report and finds that (gasp!) Facebook and chatrooms and forums and texting and stuff are encouraging children to spell words incorrectly!

Now, to be fair, I fully expect they’ve got a dataset tucked away that supports that statement, and I’m not going to try and claim that internet communication has no influence over the way young people use language. However, I find it unlikely that the English Spelling Society would have published a report that said the internet was making no difference to literacy at all, in the same way we’re unlikely to see a memo from the Discovery Institute saying “actually, nix all that earlier stuff, these fossils are pretty damned convincing after all!” Caesar hears what is pleasing to Caesar, after all.

And then there’s the research that claims exactly the opposite, and points out that while most people’s spelling and grammar may not be perfect, the rise of the internet and the infinite number of channels for text-based communication it provides mean that we’re writing far more than we ever did before. Granted, that writing may not conform to Victorian-era ideals of “correct” communication, but the world has changed a lot since those ideals were enshrined; surely communication should be assessed on how effective it is in each given circumstance? Maybe I’m being overly Darwinian about this, but it strikes me that communication methods which didn’t communicate effectively wouldn’t have much chance to get traction in a fast-moving culture like ours.

Or, to put it another way: the kids spell funny because that works for them, and I suspect the horror this produces in older generations of linguists is at least partly to do with feeling shut out by this new linguistic shift, much like the flashes of paranoia one experiences in restaurants and bars abroad where you momentarily think everyone is talking about you in a language you can’t follow clearly*. “Street slang” has always been touted as a symptom of imminent societal collapse (again, at least as far back as the Victorian era, as far as I know)… but here we still are, inflating the sphere of human knowledge despite the kids using weird words and improper spellings. Go figure, AMIRITEZ?

And lets not forget that spellings and pronunciations have never basked in some arcadian stasis, solid and immovable against culture’s fluxing tides; look back just a few hundred years, and you’ll see a language so different to today’s that it seems almost laughable due to its unfamiliarity. Language changes, and it changes through being used. That’s not something to fear; in fact, it’s probably something to celebrate.

[ * OK, that may just be me, then. ]


The future of English

Jeremy Eades @ 25-04-2008

cat price Ooh, this combines two of my favorite things:  languages and the future.  John Scalzi’s grammar bitch of the day (granted, that day was a while ago) touches on one of those small spelling differences, specifically ‘alright’ vs ‘all right’.  While I disagree with Mr. Scalzi on this point (‘alright’ is  usable as that Lichtenstein art he has up, though I’d ask somebody “Are you all right?”), it’s something to think about when discussing the differences between English spellings.  I’ve spent all day today trying to explain to Japanese eight-year-olds why I say “zee” and my co-worker says “zed.”

Garance wonders if the proliferation of an unedited Internet might not bring about a return to the writings of previous centuries, when men wore hose and words were spelled phonetically:

As blogs move us into a less heavily copy-edited world, I sometimes wonder if we’re moving back into a more 16th and 17th century form of writing, where the idea of correct spelling was less important than the communication of meaning — which, in reality, can be accomplished just as well with incorrectly spelled words and homonyms as with a more perfect language. And also: as we move ever deeper into this new world of speech-like writing, will the perfect, formal language of the page one day seem as antique and elaborate as Victorian silverware?

What say you all?  I’m a stickler for spelling and grammar (though I muck it up a fair bit), but I can definitely see a return to a more homonymic age. (funny, lowercase ‘internet’ doesn’t pass my spellchecker, but ‘homonymic’ does just fine)

(image from lolcats, of course)


Stupidfilter – an end to linguistic internet idiocy?

Paul Raven @ 15-11-2007

This has to be a spoof – it’s just too good to be true. Stupidfilter is apparently "open-source filter software that can detect rampant stupidity in written English", that will prevent the accessing and posting of grammatically flawed or misspelled content on websites. It will be available in server-side and client-side flavours … unless Rupert Murdoch sues it out of existence for instantly rendering MySpace a dead property. [Via OhGizmo!]

[tags]internet, language, grammar, spelling, filter[/tags]