There’s no doubt that our use of the English language is vastly different to our Dickensian predecessors. But is it changing exponentially?
Let me start by highlighting that I don’t pretend to be any sort of expert. In fact, I expect that you’ll find a number of mistakes in this post alone. The thing is, in my short life alone, there seems to have been three stages of the English language – formal, text speak and what I’m going to call ’emotive punctuation’. Feel free to correct me if you think there is a better way of phrasing it. I must also highlight that these thoughts are formed purely from my own perspective, so keep that in mind:
Academic English. The sort of language that has evolved slowly and thoughtfully; the sort of language you learn in school. I don’t need to labour the point.
I assume this use of language arose with the SMS message and instant messaging online, but I couldn’t tell you for sure. All I can tell you is that I learnt about it with my first mobile phone in 2001/2 (I can’t remember) and the use of ‘MSN messenger’, where we weren’t capable of typing fast enough to have significant conversations, so used to abbreviate everything to speed up the process. SMS messages were about the size of a ‘tweet’ and in an effort to cram as much information into them as possible (as they weren’t cheap either), every word was abbreviated to within an inch of its life. ‘How r u’, ‘tlk 2 u l8r’ and ‘lol’ (laugh out loud) were personal favourites of mine.
The phase seems to have worn off for a number of reasons: a) because it looks ridiculous, b) because people can type/text fast enough, c) because greater contract allowances mean that longer texts don’t cause such an issue and d) because middle-aged people do it too. Sorry guys, but that’s just the way it goes! Personally, I can remember the day I chose to stop typing in that way like it was yesterday – I was in a business studies class trying to complete an exercise and, having become so accustomed to touch-typing text speak, was having to delete every third or fourth word and replace it with the non-abbreviated version. It was highly irritating. I decided it would benefit me in the long run to start typing a little bit more formally!
This, for me, is the interesting one. The evolution of text speak; the next generation. Words are not abbreviated in the same way any more (or at least, it’s not as prevalent), but our use of punctuation is different…or more precisely, more expansive. Again, feel free to tell me if you disagree.
Compared to formal English, this hybrid places a much greater significance on punctuation to express emotion. Think about it. I would be extremely surprised if someone from a younger generation reads this and wouldn’t read into the following examples completely differently:
a) Yeah ok
b) Yeah ok!
c) Yeah ok.
d) Yeah ok 🙂
e) Yeah ok 😦
f) Yeah ok x
g) Yeah ok xx
Those are just a few examples; there are many more. But I have no doubt that some of you will read that and understand the difference in each example. For those who are looking at the examples with no idea, I’ll describe how I would personally read into the messages:
a) Yeah ok – nonchalant, doesn’t really care
b) Yeah ok! – enthusiastic
c) Yeah ok. – blunt
d) Yeah ok 🙂 – emoticon, smiley face, happy
e) Yeah ok 😦 – emoticon, sad face, unhappy
f) Yeah ok x – usually to someone of the opposite sex
g) Yeah ok xx – usually to someone of the opposite sex that you are either very close to or in a relationship with
Admittedly, people might interpret each message differently, but with the use of emoticons (the use of punctuation and letters generally used to create facial expressions) and the broadened use of punctuation, language seems to be much more expressive through its punctuation than it used to. To me at least, formal language relies more on the content of the words in general, whereas expressive punctuation tends to convey those feelings through the punctuation itself rather than the construction of the words.
It seems that the ‘expressive punctuation’ seems to be the dominant form of writing in emails, text messages and social networking, as well as growing in prominence in blog posts (including this one) and other online media. It seems that it will only be a matter of time until it becomes that standard form of English in the future. Perhaps it will it lose its place in popular culture, much the same way as text speak did? Or will it evolve into something else entirely? We’ll see.