It’s difficult not to notice that technology has been changing the way people go about their lives for a significant amount of time now. For news, we simply need to go onto the internet and look at any one of a variety of websites or social media channels. Through this, we have witnessed the written word drift into redundancy as the typed word takes over and communication evolves.
Alongside of this development we have seen something far more important begin to fade away - the English language. I don’t mean we are losing the ability to understand it. I mean that our basic language skills are disappearing; simplified, shortened language is coming to the fore and grammatical accuracy is becoming a thing of the past. This is an inevitable consequence of writing and communication speeding up; a way to make the process even more efficient. But have people considered what they have lost?
Grammar is not something we can afford to lose. Since its inception, text language has been widely used as a form of shorthand. People understand and implement phrases like “brb” or “yes m8” or (even worse) “wot u doin?” - these, in theory, speed up the whole communication process. But is it not miraculous that this is not seen as a widespread tragedy? A flagrant disrespect for the English language.
I mean, despite this article, I am in no position to claim that I am blameless - very few people are. We are all perpetrators and victims of this crime. It does leave us with some questions: how has this happened? Why have people slowly chipped away at the English language? Is this a direct consequence of a modern world? Well… no. For hundreds of years people have looked to make communication faster by making correspondence shorter. Take, for instance, the introduction of Pitman’s shorthand in 1837. It has been adapted and used widely across the world since it was first introduced for the sole purpose of writing as quickly as possible. Pushing this to the nth degree is the record set in 1922 of 350 words per minute by Nathan Behrin.
How is this any different to modern day abbreviations and text language? Is it not carefully designed for the same purpose? Well, while contemporary shorthand in the form of text language may share the same purpose of being able to write as fast as possible, there is one significant difference; traditional shorthand forms, such as Pitman’s, were used specifically in situations where notes had to be taken very quickly by secretaries or journalists. But this is no longer the case; in a world where people are always communicating digitally, 'shorthand' is used everywhere, is no longer a specialised skill and will become detrimental to the English language. Our new modernised versions of 'shorthand' are in danger of becoming so heavily used that we lose our need for "proper English". Indeed, it is already happening - “lol” or “yolo” are frequently used in spoken conversation.
Of course we look upon these people with an element of disdain as they butcher the Queen’s English - but it is becoming increasingly common. As these people systematically try to remove the need for grammar in the spoken and written word, its importance has never been more evident.
We all understand that language develops and that we are in a time of constant change. I am referring to grammar in the context of communication now but imagine, for a moment, a time where these phrases are used everywhere. Literature would disintegrate and we would be living in a linguistically anarchic world where people cannot use language to fully express themselves - something vaguely reminiscent of Orwellian Newspeak, a language described in the novel Nineteen Eighty Four and intended to serve as another method of control for the authoritarian regime led by Big Brother.
In the novel, the regimes control lies not in the mass of its support but rather in its absolute control over citizens by enforcing severe punishment for committing Thoughtcrime; the crime of simply expressing one’s views in opposition to the regime. There is one extract in the novel that I believe is especially relevant to this discussion:
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make Thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which we to express it.”
While this was encouraged in Orwell’s fictional (to an extent) regime, is this not a risk of continually reducing the English language? If this casual use of shorthand in conversation continues to develop we will simply begin to lose the ability to effectively express our beliefs and we will eventually submit ourselves voluntarily to a world akin to that of Nineteen Eighty Four. A world in which we have limited ourselves to such extents that we are only capable of following one line of thought.
As it stands it will seem as though we could never reach these extents. We won’t. But as shorthand continues to develop it will outlive us. I return to my earlier point that our basic language skills are disappearing and that, while the educated among us won’t be able to see a world without linguistic accuracy, this is a process that will continue if we allow it:
“Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation we are having now?”
This is something we need to act on. As a nation, we need to work to prevent the continued lack of grammatical accuracy in English. Modern technology emphasises the importance of speed and efficiency, but we should not let this destroy important traditions, conventions and language as a whole. We must take care not to lose the fundamental skills that form the basis of our language.
We must allow language to develop - it’s inevitable that it will change, but we can’t sit back and allow our means of expression to disappear.