Is technology killing the written language?


Texting, twitter and all the other ubiquitous instant messaging methods are surely going to spell the death of the written language; or it would seem that way if you read all the blogs, editorials, articles and predictions that our obsession with these abbreviated forms of communication are ruining civilized discourse and rendering us ultimately incapable of written communication.
Never one to shy away from controversy, I would like to offer a different view. I don’t think the new methods of communication will lead to a substantial decline in the written form of discourse. I see them, instead, as just another evolution in the way we humans communicate with each other. People who decry them as tools of the devil that will eventually cause us to be unable to speak or write in complete sentences, with full words, are akin to Chicken Little crying the “sky is falling, the sky is falling.” Video games didn’t turn our kids into a bunch of immobile, obese lumps. We do have a crisis of obesity in this country, but many of the super fat never use a computer. Likewise, texting and the other methods of getting the message across “instanter” will not turn us into a race of beings who can only communicate in groups of incoherent letters – LOL hr pls, I nd th hmr (Lots of laughs here please, I need the humor).
Our species has shown itself to be remarkably adaptable, and we have gone through a number of phases in communication since cave men grunted at each other and did drawings on cave walls. And, written English did survive the typewriter. Surprised you with that one? Yes, the first typewriter in this country, patented in 1868, had the keys arranged in alphabetical order. When typists went fast, the keys tended to tangle up and stick. The fix was what we know as the QWERTY keyboard. It was designed, dear reader, to force typists to slow down. Didn’t work for very long either. Good typists can achieve speeds of up to 100 or more words per minute.
The written language has also evolved over time, so who’s to say that LOL and XOX won’t be commonly used phrases in our future. Take a look at the following passage, and I frankly dare all but the most wonkish linguists to tell me what it says:
Faeder ure pup e eart on heofonum,
Si pin nama gehalgod.
To becum pin rice,
Gewurpe din willa, on eordan swa swa on heofonum…
Give up, okay, here’s a rough translation of this old English:
Father ours, thou that art in heaven,
Be thy name hallowed.
Come thy rich (kingdom),
Worth thy will, on earth also as in heaven….
That’s right, in ancient England, that’s how our linguistic forebears recited the Lord’s Prayer. I would imagine that one of them, listening to how we speak or seeing how we write his language today would shake his head in despair or disgust.
Bottom line, folks – lighten up. The language ain’t dead yet, and I think it is probably gonna be around for a good long while to come. People will always find a way to get their message across. Writers are among the most notorious for this. Will written language change? No doubt. It has continued to do so for centuries. But, if I might paraphrase the venerable writer Mark Twain, “the rumors of the demise of writing are somewhat premature.”

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