Because Internet: the new linguistics of informal English

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/07/24/sparkles-and-allcaps.html

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“English is a glorious and robust mongrel of a language, filled with borrowed words, weird and shifting syntax, and no consensus on spelling or grammar.”

“It is :+1: before :crazy_face: except after :poop:

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A celebration of informal language is always welcome; the focus on formal correctness denies us key insights (for example, transcripts of Drumpf’s speeches render some of his rhetorical flourishes – which work very well on his base – incoherent, making it harder to understand why people are convinced by his nonsense).

This is the interesting part for me. As late-stage capitalist America drifts away from the (never achieved) ideal of a “classless society”, speech and writing styles (as well as accents) are used more and more to deliberately denote social class. Where before the core subject matter of Shaw’s “Pygmalion” or Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” might have seemed alien and quaint to most Americans, now it’s a matter of time before a transposition of the story to the U.S. is made on its basis.

The wrinkle here is that younger people of all classes and education levels have grown up as digital natives, with ultra-short-form texting and tweeting (and the concomitant abbreviations and shorthands) being their most common form of written communication. It should be interesting to see how that develops and clashes with class expectations.

I’m also interested in the phenomenon of precocious readers whose language-acquisition is more influenced by literature than speech, who grow up to be adults whose spoken English much more closely resembles formal written English – I wonder if the existence of a rich textual social world is reducing the prevalence of this phenomenon.

My sense has been that it is. People of all ages and education levels seem to be struggling more and more to find the time and motivation to read long-form pieces, be they novels or non-fiction or magazine pieces over 3000 words.

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Oi, GGR Martin! tl:dr :face_with_hand_over_mouth:

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Boat. Floated.

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I can still hear my high school english teacher rage against text messaging.

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Back in my teaching-writing days, we professional pedants pointed out the distinctions among and between what we quaintly called “levels of usage” (yeah, it’s a hierarchical metaphor) that apply to the range of situations and environments in which language gets used. We also were known to frame this with information from linguistics and history, showing how and why these “levels” operate and why and where they matter. Of course, such instruction requires that the student have experience of a range of spoken and written English and be willing to pay attention to it. (And my university-English-teacher wife finds texting quite annoying–when it takes place during class.)

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You wrote " I’m also interested in the phenomenon of precocious readers whose language-acquisition is more influenced by literature than speech, who grow up to be adults whose spoken English much more closely resembles formal written English – I wonder if the existence of a rich textual social world is reducing the prevalence of this phenomenon."

That group is shrinking. But the reason it’s shrinking is the decline of literacy. The reason why transcripts of Trump’s speeches look like they were written for ill mannered grade school children is because more and more “adults” can’t read above the grade school level. And as anyone with a decent education knows full well, those who don’t learn how to read and speak well never learn how to actually think well. They reason at a juvenile level and they are easily led by whatever is loudest and flashiest. Trump’s advisers realized that the voting-age population is jammed with semiliterates who only think they think, and they cashed in on it.

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The internet is the open version of the closed ward.

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Are we sure that it’s a decline in literacy driving this or has the Internet simply made the quasi-literate more visible? I can also see how the well-heeled reader used to only ever encounter peers in their reading and writing and from that formed an opinion of the baseline, whereas those who weren’t part of that arena were content with TV, glossy magazines, and radio, and as such much less visible or participatory.

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Though only a side note, this caught my attention:

I think this is profoundly overestimating the 'net and diminishing the past. Of course there have been recordings and accounts of even mundane things, back to Babylonian times. Maybe today we have only fragments left, but it’s not nothing. On the other hand, I doubt that much of today’s data will be available in 2000 years, or 200, or even 50. Digital obsolescence is a threat that nearly noone seems to care about. Who knows, this might be the Next Big Problem when the climate crisis has been solved…

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Also there’s the question of reliability of our online self-reporting…

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Here I thought my main trouble being an early reader was that my pronunciation suffered, because I was reading words that didn’t pop up in everyday speech, and as ‘ghoti’ demonstrates, form doesn’t always follow function.

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I code-switch between both. I was a prolific reader as a child (my free time and attention span have lessened with age, alas), but now I’m a member of several online forums, each with their own shorthand, slang, and grammatical styles. The way I post on Tumblr isn’t the way I post here.

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That also applies to regional dialects. I picked up Hawaiian Pidgin adequately, but have trouble following someone who grew up with it at full speed, and I’m sure when I use it with a local, some small number of them are thinking “Try look the haole wahine, trying speak da kine!”

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The topic of how written communication has changed always reminds me of Greg Giraldo’s comedy. I miss his insight…

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I’ve got teachers in my family who have complained about this for decades. Literacy is on the decline. In my state, teachers used to have to make regular visits to students’ homes. Some children only had access to books or magazines at school or the library. Funding for both continues to be a challenge.

With technology, students can use voice recognition and audiobooks to avoid writing and/or reading. Those skills aren’t being taught or reinforced like they were in the past, either. I recently checked my state’s basic skills test results (reading, math, and science). It was a depressing experience. As the children get older, the scores get worse.

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Most useful one.

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I often think about how Mark Twain talked about his ideal of language… simple and expressive… he’d rather read a run on sentence by a semi literate child than a pretentious academic. I’m cool with any version of language that is expressive and emotive.

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