Sunday, February 27, 2005

Riting Nglish in SMS

Language purists often decry the "corruption" of the English language through SMS and email. The argument goes that the so-called messages passed to and fro via this media cannot be considered "English". They aren't just spelt incorrectly but there, also, appears to be a total absence of syntax, punctuation and grammar. And to make matters worse, the messages don't even "look" English!

But this argument has a curious history and goes back, at least, fifty or sixty years since popular culture became an intrinsic part of people's lives through cinema, radio and television. Back then, it was popular culture that was vilified for its so-called corrupting influence and blamed for promoting slangs and colloquialisms in everyday speech.

Of course, the nature of popular culture was also undergoing a seismic shift during this period of time and the reaction was understandable. Entertainment was becoming less elitist and market forces became a determining factor in deciding what's in and what's out. And as far as language was concerned, the "prescriptive" approach found no takers and soon culture began to find its inspiration in imitating the sounds and rhythms of the common "man". Hence, "standard" English, for example, was no longer seen as the lingua franca of popular culture but became just another means for denoting a character of a particular social class and/ or, a particular kind of education.

In this context, the so-called English used in SMS and email raises certain valid questions.
Are we looking at a dialect spoken by a new sub-culture? Does this dialect require such linguistic anarchy to justify its existence? Is this a shining example of the way people communicate in the twenty-first century? And, most importantly, are we faced with a new linguistic tool for today’s popular culture.

But before we ponder hard over these questions, it is worthwhile to remember that, sometimes, laziness plays a crucial role in mangling grammatical forms and in omitting punctuation. Economics of space, connection speed and the crushing need to rush through time are, also, seen as fellow culprits. But if we are honest enough we need to ask ourselves: no matter what, can we truly justify the absence of grammar and punctuation in our need to communicate as quickly as possible?

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