Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dumbing Down the English Language, Guest Post by Lynn Mosher

Don’t ever suggest a post idea to a group of writers that blog about writing. You get volunteered for the job!

Noticing a disturbing trend coming across my screen and in a number of other places of writing, I thought it might be a good subject for the ladies here at AuthorCulture. But they are so generous that they decided to share the task with me.

The topic? The dumbing down of the English language.

This trend has oozed its way into books, articles, blog posts–everywhere. More and more, publications accept work that is less than, um, well, what it should be.

I have always loved grammar and usually received good grades in school. I even belong to that small but amusing group of weirdoes who loved to diagram sentences. I care about words, so seeing a deterioration of our language is distressing to me.

Granted, any language will change over time. How many of us still speak in Elizabethan English? But those of us who have been born with English as our native tongue should have an appreciation for it.

Seeing this destruction, I wondered where the guilt should lie (lay? I am forever working on this one)…

  • Teachers? Probably in certain cases. More than likely, the school systems.
  • Parents? Yes. If the parents do not speak English properly, the children will follow the parents’ example.
  • Kids? Yes. Even college graduates have no mastery of the language.

But there is another. Not a “who” but a “what.”

So, what is the culprit? Technology. Social networking and phone texting.

Because of social networking sites like Twitter and, to a lesser degree, Facebook, the correct usage of grammar and punctuation is getting lost in translation. Many times, the formulation of a correct sentence is intelligently vacuous.

With the advent of Twitter and phone texting, a dumbing down, or should I say, the twittering down or texting down, of our mother tongue has occurred.

Like millions of others, I socialize on Twitter. It is a great place to make friends and contacts and is a great source of information. If you are not familiar with the process, in order to communicate with others on Twitter, one must do so in 140 characters, which includes spaces, punctuation and, sometimes, the person’s @name.

Those acclimated to writing in Twitterese, or 140 characters, use shortcuts to get their message into Twitter’s sardine-can post, and those texting use abbreviations to fit in the constraints of a miniature screen.

Misspellings and abbreviations abound, like thru, &, LOL, btw, @, urk for irk, u for you, and the usuals…your for you’re, me instead of I, here for hear and vice versa, their for they’re, it’s for its, and mixing to, too, two, and 2. And too many more to list.

Punctuation has taken a hit also. Comma placement is either non-existent or incorrect. I care about commas, having been dubbed Comma Momma by one of my favorites on the writer’s forum

When I pick up a book or a magazine, pick up an article or even a devotional online and find glaring grammar and punctuation errors, it is difficult to keep my mind focused on what I am reading.

I am not an English major and make no claims to having a solid command of the language, not by a long shot. But I am still learning. This ol’ brain is still trying to comprehend gerunds, clauses and phrases in parallel form, dangling modifiers, and all that other fun stuff.

We, as writers, need to care about the words of our language and their proper placement within a sentence. If we do not use proper grammar and punctuation in our work, how then will others read the appropriate use of it and have it reinforced in their minds? This is one area that I hope I never stop learning.

Here’s 2 bttr wrtng 4 all!

Lynn Mosher is a multi-published e-zine author and the author of the popular devotional blog, Heading Home.
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  1. One of my rants, Lynn. American sweethearts on the NYT best seller list are in sore need of their editors. Have all the big pubs put editors on LOA? Here's to literary integrity.

    Karen :)

  2. Hi Lynn,
    You are definitely the grammar queen, so you are very qualified to write this post. Thank you for reminding us that grammar rules exist for a reason! :)
    I have said very much the same thing you have here many times. And yet lately the thought occurred to me that "Twitterese" is really just a type of shorthand, much like secretaries use. It is alright in it's proper context - i.e. Internet social networking, texting, etc. It is when it is brought out of that realm into emails, articles, school papers, and even books that problems develop. I have received long emails from people with no capitalization, no punctuation and abbreviated words. It is like deciphering a code, and many times I just give up.
    The internet speak, while bothersome, doesn't get to me as much as seeing grammar, spelling, word usage, and punctuation errors in newspapers and magazines. Newspapers sacrifice good grammar for space. They also don't edit or proofread enough.
    And book authors and publishers bear their fair share of the blame. I have seen a trend in books of trying to make things authentic by writing like people speak. People do not follow grammar rules when they speak! But if they read it, then they will when they write!
    Oops, it seems I've written another blog here as a comment to yours. Hope you don't mind.

  3. My thoughts exactly, Karen! Thanks!

  4. LOL! I see this is one of your soapboxes as well, Tammy. Thanks for reading and I enjoyed your comments.

  5. Thnx, Snady! Gr8 2 c ur comment!

  6. Lynn

    This post is a much needed post, although I'm not much on the proper use of the English language. As you know I'm new to the writing scene. I enjoy writing and the help I get from the C.W.

    As for the abc, 123, of the new language that has infiltrated our world, I can't seem to get a grasp of it anyway. So I'll stick with what I know.


  7. Hey, Lynn! Good post!

    I don't have a problem with technology driving additions to good English grammar. My problem is ignorance or sloppiness. Every device will dictate the mode of grammar which is right for it.

    It's like learning a new language. We should treat these new forms of written communication as additions to our bag of tricks, and not substitutions for existing grammar knowledge.

  8. This is one of my greatest irritations. It comes from my mother trying to instill proper grammar skills. I still see her cringe when my sister ends a sentence with a preposition.

    I have been known to close a book and never open it again due to typographical errors. Typing that makes me sound petty. Maybe I am.

    The more irritating is when twitter/text speak makes its way into the workplace and even into verbal communication. Please don't say LOL to me... just laugh out loud so I can hear you. :)

    Thanks for the great post!

  9. Great post, Lynn! Thanks so much for sharing. I'm all for the evolution of language, but I am frustrated when writers, who should care about language more than anyone, are apathetic toward the tools of their trade. This is a timely reminder.

  10. On the other hand, it's a great way to recognize spam. They usually come from foreign countries or others who don't have a good command of English--which includes many Americans, unfortunately. Recently I blocked a porno come-on full of transposed letters and bad grammar. That's one thing, but I've also come across "professional" writing sites with the same kind of errors. If only people learned to write before they post! LOL

    ~ VT

  11. The proof is in the proofreading.
    Time consuming, mind numbing, thank-less.
    Necessary, none-the-less.

  12. I also think public school systems are partly to blame. They are so busy "teaching to the test" that they aren't spending the time needed to really teach grammar.

  13. We won't remember all of the grammar rules, that why there are grammar books to help us.. However, I hate chat speak. While I can figure most of it. overusing it makes a message undecipherable.

  14. I used to care about this so much, especially while living in Europe. Grammar provides the structure to language, which makes it much easier for us foreigners.

    But then I moved to Brazil, where continental grammar is basically thrown out the window. I had to approach Brazilian Portuguese in a completely different way from European languages. It's like geography decides how far a language is going to deviate from its origin.

    I started doing some studying on it and basically learned that this is how new languages are born. Though the grammar morphs, it normally does so consistently. For instance, Latin gave birth to Spanish, Portuguese, French, etc. through bad grammar. And I read an interesting study that asserts that even Ebonics has consistent grammatical structure, though it's "bad" grammar by traditional standards.

    So, now I don't buck it. I figure we're witnessing the birth of a new language & it kind of excites me.

  15. Good thought provoking post, Lynn.

    I tend to be more laid back about it. In my thinking, language is nothing more than a means of communication - and as has already been pointed out, it is a constantly morphing beast. Thus it depends on who you are trying to communicate with, how things should be written.

    One of these days we'll probably see a YA book written in chat-speak - but most people from my mother's generation won't be able to read it.

    For every word that dies (falls off the English wagon, if you will) I believe there is one birthed to replace it.

  16. I agree 100%. Technology is destroying many wonderful crafts, such as grammar and personal communication skills. As a Learning Specialist and former English teacher, I edit many formal research papers that contain text/twitter language, it makes me want to scream. Though I do admit, I'm no Comma Momma, but I am the Comma Splice Queen.

  17. Amen! I'm a proofreader by nature having worked as an administrative assistant for 20 some odd years and various other jobs that demanded perfection. Once I find a misspelling in a book, my mind turns to proofreading rather than the story and it's hard to turn off the editor. I've even rejected doing business with someone who sent an email with numerous misspellings and bad punctuation. If they can't be bothered in an email, what does that say for their work. I had an author send me an email the other day who didn't capitalize anything including I's and multiple dots between each sentence. Drives me crazy! First impressions are key.

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. Grammar has fallen off the radar in English language teaching as it does not have the allure of literature. Also, there seems to be a consensus amongst educators that teaching grammar through literature works and students will passively learn all the rules.

    This idea is flawed and has led to a generation of English teachers who have little understanding of how English actually works.

    It is also interesting to note that some posters have made their own grammatical mistakes.

    You and me is grammatically correct when it is the object of the sentence.

    That´s the difference between you and me. Correct

    That´s the difference between you and I.
    A hypercorrection and a common grammatical mistake.

    Beginning sentences with and or but is also not correct.

  20. It irks me when I receive an email or read a blog post that contains major misspellings and grammatical mistakes, but I'm more forgiving when it comes to chatting online or Twitter. In chat, using shortcuts (BTW, LOL, BRB, etc) can save time, especially if the other person is faster at typing than you are, and you're trying to keep up! On Twitter, I try to use good English, but sometimes I'll run out of room. If there's no other possible words to cut, I may use something like 'U' or 'N' in place of the full word.

  21. I care about all these things too! It's great to see that others still do too :)

  22. I agree wholeheartedly, grit my teeth every time I see the misuse and abuse of grammar. Commas, I ah...could use some help with. I'm comma impaired. I either use too many or not enough. And as a gal from the south who grew up using way too many syllables, contractions and question marks, I've had to learn not to write that way. Thanks for saying what so many of us are feeling, Lynn.

  23. Very well said, masha’Allah. The dumbing-down of English grammar has always been a pet peeve of mine; when I was in school, I remember clearly my teacher telling us that the comma was being rendered obsolete, and that teaching us the rules of comma placement was no longer really necessary.
    Thank You
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  24. I'm using your article for a research paper. It's been extremely helpful! Plus, I totally agree with you. What is happening to our society?

  25. People will communicate in any way they can. Otherwise, I think it's a matter of taste. Some English is beautiful, some is ugly. I know which I prefer.

  26. It's funny how I am writing a paper stating how English is only going through an evolution like everything else in life instead of some sort of deterioration. It's just that this society is extremely lazy as hell. But you know what, there are certain aspects of this evolution that makes this society interesting and alive still.