During an unscheduled procrastination break I read an article claiming that technology, specifically the spell-check feature, is lulling us into a false sense of wordsmanship (http://bbc.in/KHrm4c). I, and others, have previously commented on the decision by at least one country to allow txt English in school exams (see http://bit.ly/MpCPY3 for more of the debate). This newly published article suggests an intermediary step in what could be seen as evolution of our communication. While the youngsters and hipsters of our society might be
quite comfortable abbreviating their messages to 160 characters, it still confuses many of our society who were brought up with a more traditional grammar, spelling, and literacy education. The suggestion here is that even the simple word-processor is changing the way we compose messages. One may say that this will lead to poor English communication and a decline of society.
I am a fervent advocate for quality English (despite some of my writings) and enjoy prose well written. However, I can see the argument that spelling differences are a minor annoyance in most instances. The prime example of this is the great massacre of the English language perpetrated by the Americans. To some, it is a simplification rather than butchery – a refinement of rules complicated through a bastardisation brought about in the historical conquests of nations – but it is a trivial example of how even modern changes in language don’t necessarily signal the certain fall of humanity.
Mark Twain may have been a supporter of simplifying our language and I’m sure he would have smiled at the “disemvowled” TXT SPK of our SMS-savvy. Shakespeare is credited with enhancing our culture through new words and phrases. So why are some so concerned with rising semi-illiteracy? Isn’t it just fine as long as we all understand each other?
Perhaps the education system in this area should be focussed on communicating ideas clearly, rather than perfection in the method. By example, we aren’t generally concerned with the details of code in a computer program as long as it serves our purposes, and different doctors may tackle an illness in different ways but still treat a patient. So why are some of us so concerned about some changes in the process and mechanics of communication. Is it that there are better ways of doing things and we should always aim for the best: there are less computationally-expensive code, and [arguably] more optimal treatment regimens?
If striving for perfection is the case then we must also realise that the target is moving. Hardware architecture and optimisation routines are constantly updated, and evidence-based medicine strugles to keep up with itself. So too, English changes over time. How long and how hard should we fight for history and by what measure can we evaluate communication efficiency?
I certainly don’t have the answers but I did spell-check this before I posted…