Older generations have always loved to criticise the younger ones. One thing they especially love to blame young people for is language change, which they perceive as negative.
Complaints about young people changing language or using it improperly go back a long time…
“Many do not know the alphabet … cannot write grammatically, and seem to have been trained to hate mental exercise … often they cannot read intelligently and dislike any reading.” – English professor at a small college, 1956
“The total neglect of this art [speaking] has been productive of the worst consequences…in the conduct of all affairs ecclesiastical and civil, in church, in parliament, courts of justice…the wretched state of elocution is apparent to persons of any discernment and taste… if something is not done to stop this growing evil …English is likely to become a mere jargon, which every one may pronounce as he pleases.” – Preface of A General Dictionary of the English Language, 1780
The quotes above seem to show that young people have never known how to write properly. I believe, however, that older generations have simply been perceiving changes in the English language as mistakes, rather than as evolution.
So, how are young people “ruining” English this time? The latest criticism is that because of the conventions of texting, such as abbreviations and leaving out punctuation, nobody knows how to write properly anymore. There is, however, something they may not have considered: Texting is not writing, but written speech.
Because of this, it follows the typical conventions of speech much more closely than it follows those of writing. Speech tends to be much more casual and is usually a fast paced back-and-forth conversation between two or more people. When texting first became possible, it therefore faced the problem that traditional writing was too slow to keep the conversation moving. People began to use shortcuts in order to speed things up and make texting more closely resemble speech, which is its purpose. Shortened versions of words, abbreviations and the absence of capitalization or punctuation are found in text messages as they make “written speech” more efficient without diminishing understanding.
Btw, there is one more way that texting conventions can benefit those who use them. Studies often show that there are incredible cognitive benefits to being bilingual, bidialectal, or to having the ability to code-switch. Code-switching is essentially defined as the ability to switch between more than one language to suit your intended audience. The fact that young people today are so easily able to do this shows higher, not lower, intelligence.
Finally, there will always be common mistakes in language. Some current examples include the phrases “I could care less” (I couldn’t care less), “could of” (could have/could‘ve), but I wouldn’t be too quick to assume that these errors stem from millennials texting. In his 2001 book “Mr. Paradise”, Elmore Leonard wrote the sentence “We could’ve settled, the city pays out a few bucks, it wouldn’t of cost you a dime.” At the time this book was published, Leonard would have been over 75 years old.
Texting is not degrading the English language. It is, rather, a sort of English dialect that benefits those who use it alongside ordinary writing. Nobody who texts believes that it would be appropriate to use “r” instead of “are”, or “tho” instead of “though”, in an essay or a formal email. Language has always evolved, and change is what happens to a language that is thriving. English doesn’t need saving. The paper napkin industry, however, is in real jeopardy. Oh no! The millennials have struck again!
Do you agree with me? How do you think emojis fit into this idea of “written speech”? Leave a comment! I’d be interested to read your thoughts.