Whispers of Flexibility

The thought occurred to me today that sometimes I climb up onto this soapbox about how the English language is dying, languishing in neglect at the whim of a popular new SMS-speak, until finally it will expire from malnutrition and few will remember it, and be laughed at for doing so. I climb onto this soapbox with the best of intentions: like kitsch over-taking good art, I cringe when I hear careless slang based upon intentional misuse of the language or text-language spelling intruding into situations that call for formal English (such as ending a sentence with “lol” in a term paper).

In fact, I think ending any sentence in “lol” should be a legally punishable offense. Before I digeress, however…

I briefly grabbed this thought as it flew by me today that one of the reasons I’m so hard on these alterations to our language is because I’m a writer. As a musician relies on notes, a photographer on images and light, a painter on line and form, I rely on words to tell the story that I’m attempting to convey. I believe words should be handled lovingly, manipulated with care. I suspect that there are times in which they manipulate us. I don’t think language…any language…should be mis-handled carelessly, or with crass intention.

What occurs to me, though, is that handling language carefully isn’t confined to the written word. Written communication post-dates language, after all. Language, in all of its beauty, existed before it was recorded in written form. And, of course, oral tradition and the spoken word are rapidly and regularly evolving, proof that language is dynamic and alive, not merely static and existing, just as we are. As such, perhaps I should expect the easy evolution of the written form of our language, and perhaps I should condone this as a natural part of its life. We can’t, after all, stop a child from growing into their own person, even if we strongly dislike the person that they are becoming.

Still, though, there is a part of me that wants to discourage this, to wonder if the growth is occurring without proper supervision. I think that evolution can easily slide into devolution, and that words have power. When we treat them with respect and care, they can heal. When we toss them about casually and without due consideration, they cause anger and lead to war. This potential exists even more in the spoken form, as we tend to not think through what we are saying as carefully before we say it, as we would if we were to write it, instead.

Of course, when I get to that point in my thought, I’m thinking that I’m not being too hard on the way our language is used, after all.

What do you think? Is language suffering for the sake of expediency and due to a lack of respect? Am I being too cranky about this? The comment chain awaits…

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