I’m in the paper again…

…this time for non-musical grievances. I finally heeded the call to write opinion pieces for The Maine Campus, the student newspaper for UMaine. Of a range of topics I could rant about, I felt most compelled to lament society’s neglect of the English language. The article’s intended title was “Thoughts of Technology & Language,” but the editors fancied a more alliterative legend. At least the mugshot will get more people around here to acknowledge my pitiful existence. Read the online publication at this address – http://media.www.mainecampus.com/media/storage/paper322/news/2009/02/16/Opinion/OpEd-A.Lexicon.Lost.To.Lolz-3631195.shtml

But I will copy the article here for your convenience.


Thoughts on Technology & Language

Languages don’t evolve – they devolve. I’ve adopted this philological maxim as my mantra. And while it’s a linguistic principle for tongues to simplify over time, recent culture has taken it beyond the disuse of tenses and cases.

Behold an age of instantaneous information. Speedy Internet access now lets us share pictures, videos and words in a flash. Written sentences can no longer keep up. We ingest media so quickly we have no time to actually read. News websites are becoming increasingly visual because people are more enthralled by the camera than the keyboard.

This disadvantage is affecting the English language itself. Our generation now expresses itself with shorter spellings (“u” for “you”) and acronyms (“lol”), for the sake of celerity. Now, such perversion is appropriate in the context of “LOLcats,” but its use has become so common that many embrace it as valid English. I know professors whose students turn in essays written to the standards of the “LOLcat Bible,” not as a farce, but as a reflection of total immersion in a paradigm where words become secondary to “new media.” Why read Aristotle’s Politics when a boiled-down wiki is bookmarked next to Facebook? It’s a disservice enough to read a translated text, let alone an electronic abstraction.

Again, language simplifies. I do foresee the day when contractions like “doesn’t” and “won’t” will drop the apostrophe and become standard. That’s natural. But our technology threatens the diversity of our lexicon. Increasingly, words are becoming too formal and archaic for common comprehension. You may not notice this much, but try descending this ivory tower into reality. You’ll discover why poverty and ignorance keeps the lower class in the dark ages. Children would rather watch Hannah Montana than read anything at all. A chasm widens between the vocabulary on this page and the simple English that modern media has allowed us to survive upon. It won’t be the first estrangement of a classical language from the vulgate.

How can a Bible rendered to a fourth-grade reading level teach us to think critically about our world? Why read Dickens when every other word requires a dictionary? Culture is unconsciously committing what I call “lexic cleansing.” You’re not at fault. You’re the choir to which I’m preaching. But how small a minority we are, immune to this linguistic purgation. Who’s to blame? I’ll mention the ignorance encouraged by right-wing politics, but what disturb me also are the left-wing elites who deify technology as the salvation of the human mind. They’re too spellbound by their iPhones to realize that technology is what you bring to it, not vice-versa. Television and Internet promised an intellectual renaissance. Now in the hands of the masses, their predominant use is for pornography. Increasing the availability of information has decreased the quality of its expression.

As we drown in our portable TV screens, we dispose our need to express ourselves with the beauty of language. We continually absorb information with fewer words as possible, to the point where smilies and “facepalms” replace our critical capacities. Perhaps we are coming full-circle to ancient Egypt, to a language expressed through pictures. Is literacy again becoming the luxury of elitists? Not while my fellow “emoticon-oclasts” take a stand against this opium of the masses.

Jeremy Swist is a sophomore logophile.


6 Responses to “I’m in the paper again…”

  1. Zev Eisenberg Says:

    Portable tv screens LOL.

  2. Do hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiacs scare themselves?

  3. You don’t even need hi-tech media to experience this phenomenon. Have you looked at Time Magazine lately? All pictures, graphs, lists, and cartoons. In several years on this track it will resemble a comic book more than a news source.

  4. Love the parallel you draw to ancient heiroglyphs. The epitome of the devolution of language: back to the early roots of its written self.

  5. Just passing by.Btw, you website have great content!

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  6. You certainly made some valid points. My sense is that the American school system, by embracing the ‘look-say’ reading theory of Dewey and his followers at Teachers’ College, Columbia, has created a lack of interest in reading over the last 70 years. Television aided this transition to a society of watchers. People know something is wrong, but they haven’t figured out that the problem lies in their own faulty education. They would rather blame others; we see virulent attacks on Liberals or Conservatives in comments on news articles displayed on the internet. How about the people who don’t have internet access? Limited language skills tend to create ‘black-and-white’ thinking as well as a frustration and rage at not being able to communicate.

    The few of us old folks who were lucky enough to be taught by classically educated teachers need to reach out and offer remedial classes under the guise of retraining for better jobs (or community organizing for working parents). I’m training mothers to help their kids take advantage of English classes.

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