A while ago, I read this article on the Toast and it, among other discussions, has inspired me to think more carefully about language itself, and to ponder where I think we are going with it. There are many points of view on the topic. There are people like myself who gleefully play with any new bastardization of the English language that presents itself (usually on Tumblr, actually...). And there are people like my friend.
As an example, and not to pick on him (well, maybe a little bit, lolz), he absolutely despises all internetspeak (with the exception of, lol because of the reasons expanded in this youtube video by David Mitchell, who describes the language of the 'net as "techspeak"). This friend of mine agrees very strongly with Mr. Orwell who writes: "Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. . . . Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. . . . Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?"*
Now, this is ominous, in the best Orwellian fashion. A lot of people cite Orwell (and probably fairly) to describe the downfall of society in its many forms. People aren't reading any more? Orwell (or sometimes, Bradbury... it's funny when they get them confused. Irony!). Government is spying on us? Orwell (and in all fairness, he did call that one). Those *%@! kids with their mangled English? Orwell.
Interesting, isn't it, that our language evolves with every moment we spend online?
That being said, there is still a difference between what we write, what we blog, and what we speak. In many ways, these are completely different languages, with their own rules and restrictions. In the following weeks, I'll be examining some of these rules as they apply to writing and consider why we should follow them most of the time and learn to break them when we must.
But for now, I think it's important for us (especially writers) to realize that the spoken word and written word are different creatures in certain ways and similar creatures in other ways. Some people already grok this idea. For example, I was talking to another friend (yes, I have more than one) on the bus earlier this week and we were discussing the nature of writing and editing. She made the point that she could make speeches very well, but when it came to writing, she had no idea what to do with her commas, since the pause can be used differently in speaking and in writing.
However, I feel that there is a natural flow that can come from learning to speak and learning to read and learning to write. This natural flow comes from the writer's voice and an attention not only to the way in which people speak, but also in the way they convey information. Writing is more than just dialogue or narrative, it's expressing how people act and think and be within their environment. New authors are told time and again to go out and watch actual people, to write down how they speak and act and look at each other. This is an excellent exercise for dialogue, but it also is important to note body language and how people interact with each other, how they fit together in social spaces.
Which is where we come back to Orwell and Dodgespeak. Using memes and shorthand to share information is not, I believe, a dumbing down of the language, rather it is a healthy reminder of shared values and shared boundaries, the way we can understand each other through body language when no words are necessary. It is up to the writer to pay attention to these queues and make use of them in their own writing.
*Thanks to Goodreads for the quote, since I am sadly without my state-mandated copy of 1984 right now. Please don't report me.