Friday, January 21, 2011

Ack! "They're gonna destroy the English language!"

My husband is always ranting about it - the new generation of shortspeak that has us parsing sentences like "txt u 2mwro dnt wat up" (from my cousin's Facebook).

In my sojourn through Egan's Goon Squad (I know, I know, I'll stop talking about it soon, but it is such a good book!), I stumbled into her slipstream story "Pure Language." I read my husband the passage below to assuage any fear that he's the only one nervously watching the transformation of language via social media.

[Rebecca's] new book was on the phenomenon of word casings, a term she'd invented for words that no longer had meaning outside quotation marks. English was full of these empty words--"friend" and "real" and "story" and "change"--words that had been shucked of their meanings and reduced to husks. Some, like "identity," "search," and "cloud," had clearly been drained of life by their Web usage. With others, the reasons were more complex; how had "American" become an ironic term? How had "democracy" come to be used in an arch, mocking way?

I don't know myself whether we should be nervous about this transformation of language any more than about the changes bound to occur within populations, species, philosophies, and doctrines. I do believe we should be watchful, however, and try our best to participate while we parse not only the vaguely English messages tweeting across our screens, but also what it means to live in our present world as it barrels toward a future we are all helping to create.