A great debate among the teaching community is this: Is the language of text messages, instant messaging, memes, and bumper stickers going to ruin English, or is it merely the next mutation of the language? We know the language is constantly changing. My students don’t believe me when I tell them the language Shakespeare used was easy for all the normal people to understand when he wrote it. It is true, though. Yes, Shakespeare used a great deal of iambic pentameter and other verse. No, most normal people didn’t make it a practice to speak in iambic pentameter. However, they all used the same words Shakespeare did (except the ones he made up, but they became common soon enough), and understood Shakespeare’s puns and jokes without someone explaining them.
The language, obviously, has changed since then. We still have formal English, but it doesn’t sound much like Shakespeare’s formal (or casual) English. Hence the debate. Do we allow the language to evolve as it has for centuries, or do we fight to keep it as is?
I fall somewhere on the keep it as-is side of the spectrum, but not entirely. Language will change. At the rate our technology is advancing, we will inevitably be coining and using new words. That’s not the problem. The problem I have with the current alteration of the language is that it’s too drastic and too rapid. Do we need the alternate spellings and egregious abbreviations?
“watz” “boyz” “bc” “idk” “I ♥ _____” “bt-dubs” “totes adorbs”
We already have perfectly useful words for these. Using the newer spellings and abbreviations is both indicative of and contributing to a variety of societal issues: apathy; informality; and occasionally, sheer ignorance. This is the problem with a too-rapid alteration of language.
On the other hand, sometimes it’s fun to abbreviate or alter language for effect. Like I tell my students, you have to know the rules before you can properly break them. The student who wrote the studentism below absolutely did not know the rules. This is studentism in one of its purest forms. It just accidentally falls into the category of those word mutations I discussed earlier. “I heart my knee so I didn’t get on it for about a weak.” Oh, but it is rife with lovely, inadvertent, amazing meanings. How could I not adore this poor student and this sentence? I too, ♥ my knees. It’s too bad they are weak–though that does mean I can sometimes predict the weather.