Yet another death-knell for Mistress English

typed for your pleasure on 6 June 2007, at 1.39 pm

Sdtrk: ‘Albion Festival report’ by The focus group

I have absolutely nothing polite to say about this. Nothing whatsoever.

Mobile texts harm written language?
Reuters | Wed Apr 25, 2007 9:28 AM ET

DUBLIN (Reuters) – The rising popularity of text messaging on mobile phones poses a threat to writing standards among Irish schoolchildren, an education commission says.

The frequency of errors in grammar and punctuation has become a serious concern, the State Examination Commission said in a report after reviewing last year’s exam performance by 15-year-olds.

“The emergence of the mobile phone and the rise of text messaging as a popular means of communication would appear to have impacted on standards of writing as evidenced in the responses of candidates,” the report said, according to Wednesday’s Irish Times.

“Text messaging, with its use of phonetic spelling and little or no punctuation, seems to pose a threat to traditional conventions in writing.”

The report laments that, in many cases, candidates seemed “unduly reliant on short sentences, simple tenses and a limited vocabulary.”

In 2003, Irish 15-year-olds were among the top 10 performers in an international league table of literacy standards compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Call me old-fashioned, or call me anal-retentive, but honestly, I think people in this day and age not having proper writing skills is embarrassing and shameful. Yes, I realise that language evolves through time for ‘better’ usage — arguably what comprises contemporary English is much less brain-destroying than say, Middle English — but these days I’m inclined to think that ‘better’ in the context of 21st Century society really means ‘lazier’.

My friend Wolfgang of vulne pro studios once argued that if the person who receives your message can parse what you’re essentially saying, despite any misspellings or grammar explosions, then that’s really the most important thing. Sure, I’ll grant him that, but I firmly believe that proper spelling should be encouraged. There are many people out there, myself included, who will almost entirely disregard an article, a blog entry, a post, or what have you if it’s typed ham-handedly. There may be an important message cleverly hidden within, but it’s as if the reader is being given a diamond ring cleverly hidden within a handful of shit. Frankly, if a person can’t be arsed to take the time to spell properly, why should anyone take the time to read it?
For a lot of people (and note, that’s ‘a lot’ — ‘alot’ isn’t a word), it’s a case of they’re typing so fast, that they don’t go over what they’ve written for errors before they submit it or hit the Send button; that’s how the Interbutt standards ‘zOMG’ and ‘teh’ began, for instance. There’s absolutely no sane reason why a person can’t give what they’ve said a quick check. And ‘that takes too long’ is hardly an excuse — if your spelling and grammar is up to snuff, it won’t take more than a couple of seconds, at any rate.

And as far as limited vocabulary, that rankles me just as much, if not more. Could you imagine if writers such as Wilde, or Burgess, or Machen, or Plath, didn’t have the benefit of an expansive vocabulary? Could you picture how incredibly dull their writing would be, or any writing, speech, or dialogue, for that matter? Language should be more than just a vehicle for basic communication; at its best, it should also paint pictures. Obviously, not everything that comes out of everyone’s mouth should sound like something by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (‘Yes, my good maiden; I would desire to place an order for a burger of ham, bedecked with intertwining spirals of tomato catsup and yellowed mustard, denuded of pickles, and accompanying that I wouldst like a singular order of French fries — crisp, golden-brown shards of deeply-fried potato — in the largest size a man can request. To quench my thirst which threatens even now to vanquish me, I will also require a chilled Coca’d-Cola, in a size that lay betwixt Diminutive and Titanic’) but a larger vocabulary is, at the very least, a sign that you’re trying to elevate yourself above the grunts and snorts that pass for common language.

In summation? Read more books, I suppose

Random similar posts, for more timewasting:

Annoyed beyond reason and politeness on October 27th, 2005

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12 have spoken to “Yet another death-knell for Mistress English”

  1. Mahtek writes:

    I couldn’t agree more! Let these grammatically challenged and spelling n’er-do-wells reap the benefits of text spelling on their resume and job applications! They may chance to speak aloud, “Though I hath filed applications by the score, not one call for an interview have I received!”. Is it any wonder such a high percentage of college students spend their first year or two in high school level courses trying to catch up.

  2. SafeTinspector writes:

    “can parse what you’re essentially saying”
    See, this is where I agree and disagree with him–at the same time!

    When you’ve boiled your speech down to rudimentary single syllable words and bar most punctuation, you have become more–not less–ambiguous and illegible.

    You open yourself up to more immediate misinterpretation, allowing the reader to decide what you meant and in what spirit your information was offered. Even when using proper English and common grammar you may find readers taking things “the wrong way.” If you are too brief, then this is compounded.

    I’m in favor of scaling back on conditional statements in common language, and I’m all for the liberal use of pronouns to simplify language as long as they are used unambiguously. (if knowingly employed for humorous or dramatic effect, I will make an exception)

    On the other hand, however, is the reality of text messaging, which is often limited to a certain number of characters and depends upon a relatively kludgey data entry method unless your phone has a full alphabetic keypad.

    I don’t know, DC. Like all things, I think the best course is somewhere BETWEEN the grammar nazi and the ‘OMG m bff JL. ORLY?’ crowd.

  3. Jagd Kunst writes:

    In my shithole country, the kids can use text language in their final exams.


  4. Davecat writes:

    Jagd Kunst –
    I patently refuse to believe that you’re serious.
    *strokes chin* If your country were to be nuked from orbit, would it be a tremendous loss?

    Mahtek –
    Alternatively, we could simply export all the American kids who favour text / leet speak over to where Jagd Kunst is residing. Horrible for Mr Kunst, but they’d feel right at home.
    And I know what you mean about college kids playing catch-up; in the English writing class that I had last year (it was a pre-req), there were a couple of people there about my age or older. Keep in mind this was like a basic writing skills class. And yes, our teacher made pains to point out that text message speech was absolutely unacceptable on our papers. The fact that he even had to say something like that makes me die a little bit inside.

  5. Davecat writes:

    Well that’s what I’m saying like: people should strive to raise their vocabularies out of the single-syllable ghetto. People should try to learn and use more adjectives, adverbs, and the like, as I believe that would help eliminate ambiguity. The more descriptive a person is — not florid, obviously, but within reason — fills in details and gaps. Granted, a person probably won’t be doing that via phone, but there’s no excuse for not doing so in everyday speech.
    Of course, it doesn’t help that English is naturally faulty. ‘They’re’, ‘Their’ and ‘There’, and nonsense of that nature. The whole affair is a slippery slope, cos what are the standards? Sure, we may have broader vocabularies than, say, a chav, but compared to someone like H.P Lovecraft, we might seem a little inadequate… But what I’m saying is anything that reduces ambiguity is the goal, really.

    As far as texting by phone. more cellphones should be built like Treos or Blackberries, with full QWERTY keyboards. But I would say that. 😉
    Anecdote: last time Monti and I were out dinnering, she had forgotten her phone and had to use mine to send a text to her husband. After hunting and pecking for a couple of minutes, she admitted that she could text faster (complete sentences in proper English, mind) on her non-QWERTY phone…

  6. SafeTinspector writes:

    Jagd’s from New Zealand. …not sure what the hell that actually says.

    Rejoice at the idiotification of your fellow people. They’ll be that much more susceptible to manipulation for your own ends later.

  7. PBShelley writes:

    Wonderful article; I agree completely 🙂

    What’s “text messaging”?

    During my last two rewrites (of my novel) I became VERY close with my Roget’s Super Thesaurus and Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. Too bad to say that it might be deemed “unnatural” but that’s okay, especially compared to what is considered “natural” these days. One of these books should be shackled with adamantium cuffs to each wrist of these miscreants!

    Folk are WAY too attached to their devices, which only bind them up deeper in the shite that is Modern Days…

  8. Davecat writes:

    Text messaging!
    When I first heard of texting messages, I thought it was probably the most nonsensical thing ever invented in the history of inventions (‘What the fuck is the point of writing a message on your phone??’), but I soon found a use for it — it keeps me from being utterly bored at work. 🙂

    I love my devices! As always, it’s not necessarily the device’s fault; if the person using it is a tosser, then that’s the obvious cause. Someone I know used to refer to that sort of thing as ‘user interface error’.
    In the case of texting with a non-QWERTY keyboard, people shorten their phrases cos they don’t have time to spell it all out / don’t know how to get to the various characters, like apostrophes, commas, quotation marks, etc, so you get stuff like ‘call u l8r’ instead of proper English, among other things… IT MAKES MY HEAD HURT.

    Lashing dictionaries and thesauruses (thesaurii?) to people’s wrists would be fantastic, but are you sure they’d even know how to use them?

  9. PBShelley writes:

    Actually, the newer “Roget’s Super-Thesaurus” is amazingly simple to use, and much more sensibly laid out as opposed to those older encyclopedic monstrosities.

    I think it’s more a matter of people just not reading anymore; at least books without pictures. Sad, really.

    Oh well, I’ll continue in my near-luddite ways and avoid electronic entanglements until I need them. It’s easy when you’re a hikikomori LOL

    Regards to you and the loverly Missus, from us 🙂

  10. MontiLee writes:

    dud3 – d0n’7 137 7h3m 74k3 0ur 73×7 4w4y. !’11 ju$7 d!3!A

    Someone had to do it.

  11. Everhard writes:

    I am a poor speller and, although I use M$ Word as a spellchecker, my computer’s hardware resources do not let me run Word and a web browser simultaneously. Nevertheless, I agree with the gist of this. Here in England (it seems to me) there are two kinds of people: Londoners (like me) and the rest. Many of ‘the rest’ speak (and write) a bizarre variation of English. For example, colloquial pronunciation of ‘had’ (as in ‘He had to go’) is ‘hat’. But when they write it like that (‘He hat to go’) and insist that is correct (these were some of my fellow students when I went back to uni in ’95-8), I give up!

  12. Davecat writes:

    Everard –
    ‘He hat to go’. Asinine as that is, I couldn’t stop giggling!

    As far as Londoners — and correct me if I’m wrong, which I probably am — isn’t there that dialect wherein the letter H is pronounced like ‘haitch’? I know John Lydon used to do that (listen to the Sex pistols ‘God save the Queen’: ‘They made you a moron / Potential H-bomb’) But then, maybe that’s like a rhotacism, like what Jonathan ‘Wossy’ Ross has.

    So I take it you’ve never been to Newcastle, then? 🙂

    I would disown you within seconds if you started writing like that professionally. Although I’m surprised no-one’s tried to publish a novel written entirely in leet… they probably had the manuscript flung back at them.

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