The evolution of language

Wired has an interesting article indicating that the Web is not the death of language. This struck me as odd. It seems there is an assumption that technologies such as IM, or its wireless sibling, SMS, will lead to a gradual corruption of the English language. The outcome of a study into IM conversations of college students revealed this not to be the case – in fact, the majority of interactions were correct:

"They used few abbreviations, acronyms and emoticons, the spelling was
reasonably good and contractions were not ubiquitous. Overall, the
study suggested that conversing through instant messenger resembled
speaking more than writing."

While the Acadamie Francaise may be the guardian of the French language, and occasionally take a bold stand to replace the word ’email’ with a French equivalent like ‘courriel’, I have never felt language is under attack from new technologies or through day-to-day usage. Sure it may evolve, but that is a function of a living language where words take new meaning each day.

More interesting is how the communications technology we use affects the way we interact in terms of tone and style. A business letter is a formal mode of communication, the language is crisp, impersonal and authoritative. But when I as a communicator switch to email, I use a different register, perhaps a more casual tone, even though I may be conversing with the same recipient about the same subject. Email is faster and more ethereal, so necessarily can be less formal.

Moving to IM, I find people are more casual again. I believe IM can be used responsibly in a business context to communicate with co-workers, clients or reporters, but it is far more humorous and relaxed. The immediacy of IM (and SMS) brings intimacy. If you are trying to build a relationship with someone and communicate with them – this is a distinct advantage.

The Web is a good thing for language since it means we can communicate with more people through more modes, more quickly and more frequently. The usage that the Web enables will bring change to our language, which as communicators we should embrace and evangelize. Meantime for those who resist such linguistic evolution, I bid thee farewell and God’s speed.