The Degradation of Language

My commute home to our new apartment takes me past a small chiropractor’s office that’s situated right off of the main “strip.” They have an old-style sign at street level: you know, the kind where someone actually comes out and moves letters around manually, instead of the gaudy digital light shows that have become all too prevalent for U.S. businesses. The content of this particular sign struck me more than its design, though:

“Let us care 4 ur spine.”

As I alluded to in my last post, I’m a bit of a technology addict. As such, I certainly utilize text messaging; SMS is the best way to communicate in some circumstances. As the trend has evolved more toward text-based communication, be it email, blogging, Facebook wall posts, or Twitter, there seems to be less voice calling going on, or at least there tends to be less in my world. I’m proficient in text “language;” the short-hand that makes tapping out a message on a standard phone keypad quicker. I also understand that, in many cultures, texting is considered more polite than taking a voice call while with friends or in public.

Since when, though, did it become socially acceptable for advertising to be reduced to text-message language?

I guess I see it as a time and place for everything. When texting someone, I have no problem using the abbreviations that mark SMS language. When typing an email, however, or even tweeting, or in essentially any other written form of communication whatsoever, I stay away from it, because I struggle with the decline of the English language. I struggle with the fact that students in public school systems today think in SMS language. And not just students. I once was asked to proofread a script for a dramatic sketch, written by an adult, that used “lol” in the dialogue. How, exactly, is a character supposed to deliver that???

I’m not opposed to texting, but I think there is a much more limited acceptability thresh-hold than we currently ascribe to it. When it is used in road-side advertising, we’ve passed that thresh-hold. When we permit language to be abbreviated on a consistent basis, we lose the poetry of the language, the nuances of the words, the beauty of the semantics. We allow our language to be degraded into odd character combinations that are the equivalent of misshapen limbs on a deformed body. With the decline of our language follows the decline of our culture. God knows, we’re seeing enough decline in that already, as falling literacy rates and non-existent reading habits of both teens and adults prove. After all, why read a book when you can play a video game, right?

Perhaps when a culture has reached a point where such fast and immediate communication is necessary, we’ve passed a point of no return. I hope not. To think optimistically, however, we cannot permit ourselves to be so hurried all the time that we feel the need to abbreviate and chop up every word and sentence for the sake of expediency, or, even worse, for the sake of what is “cool” at a given time. In doing so, words become cadavers, not living symbols of an existential meaning beyond themselves as they were intended to be. American language and literature is already the object of disdain from most other civilized cultures around the globe. Should we ever hope to move beyond that, we must learn the limits of when to cut short our words.

If any picture is “worth a thousand words,” then how much must it survive on each one of those words? How important must each one be? Hoping against the arrival of a day when we all speak (God forbid) in numbers and algorithms, our words are the most precious way of communicating the contents of our souls. And, if we lose those words, I fear we lose a piece of those souls…or at least the ability to know them as closely…as well.

1 Comment

  1. I totally agree with you. It angers me to read “thru” or “u” in an academic paper (which I have). But, then, even worse, is the fact that this student, a college student no less, does not know the difference between through and thru. How sad indeed.

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