What Happened (Man) To Your English (Oi)? SIDE B

In my Side A article, I have wondered why modern folks talk the way they talk and how the trend in communication has been diluted from our ‘Sunday’s best’ to a ‘button-down shirt’ where most seemed to have difficulty making the required switches to.

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The question – why is this happening? Let me warn you, if you continue reading this article, it will probably give you a headache; or better yet, you might end up like my student whose nose bled disturbingly in the middle of a class discussion (and to think that he is still in kindergarten!) I thought to myself, was my lesson too much? Anyway, if you continue reading, please don’t say I didn’t warn you.

How wide is our vocabulary

A person’s vocabulary is his weapon in making the necessary language switch. But let’s admit it, no one has the capacity to know and remember all the words in our dictionary which, other than not having an exact account of the number of recorded words, is also continuously expanding in terms of its quantity and flexibility. To give an estimation of an individual’s control over these words can be quite controversial.

Gossipcast

If you are familiar with the TV series Gossip Girl then you know what that red line means

Some people will argue that a person’s vocabulary is dependent on the social group he and his family belonged to. “Language class is not in the DNA,” okay?! Let me get that across as early as now. When I mentioned making a switch from formal to casual when certain situations call for it, I was not referring to anything extravagant that only the rich can relate to. It was a statement that encouraged any ordinary person to apply it in his life. The language prejudice about class correlating with DNA, which a lot of people have been secretly nurturing, is one of my pet peeves. Further justifying it by saying that “at the age of four, a professional’s child will have had 50 million words addressed, while a working-class child 30 million, and a welfare child just 12 million” ticks me off even more. I am sorry but generalizing that the rich (where class is assumed to reside) are better at communicating than the underprivileged is just bullshit.

For me, anyone has the capacity to expand his vocabulary standards to its maximum. If there was one significant factor to consider, then it’s definitely not DNA but intervention. I believe that intervention plays an important role in molding a person’s vocabulary. However, the concern is on the type of intervention that a person is getting. What type of intervention then should we get in our social groups or in schools? How will the trend on language training help us when current trends encouraged colloquialism? When does one give in (or not give in) to the urgings of educational systems to take part in following the trend towards more informal grammar and more writing that imitates speech habits?

We have to remember that imitating speech habits or what Linguists commonly refer to as oral language is often unreliable. While new words and meanings enter, the old and original are eased aside. These old, discarded words, without the ingenuity of dexterous writing or formal speech affairs to preserve them, will gradually disappear from communal memory instead of living on. A scenario that is almost similar to man’s ‘automatic filtering response’ to items that he finds useful versus items he finds useless. For instance, instead of utilizing “locus” to refer to a site that is considered to be the center of a particular activity, these days, we would much prefer using “hub.” This is similar to sorting out stuff you have collected through the years. At some point in your life, you would end up selling or getting rid of some items that you found expendable.

So if the trend in writing is likened to talking and this is perceived more agreeable in modern times, then there is no need for us to use referential tools like the dictionary? Since we can just get by with simple and casual words, why not do away with it? After all they have become obsolete, right?

Let us take the nursery rhyme Little Ms. Muffet as an example:

ms muffet

What is a tuffet? I can remember reciting this nursery rhyme with my classmates in Prep School and I have to admit that this was the first time (at age 30) that I inquired about its meaning. Just imagine if this was altered in the dictionary to give way to a more casual referral as “low seat” or worst, the dictionary itself will be removed since we preferred oral language over the written source. How would we know what the word “tuffet” meant? We can think and talk about what it may possibly mean but we cannot really be certain unless we consult the dictionary or other forms of literature that mentions the same word in the same context.

The fact is, oral language is not documented and because it is not documented, it is constantly changing words and their meanings. Since change is extremely tolerated and standards are lost, we are led to an individual’s excuse to settle with ‘simplicity’ in order to achieve understanding. People call it ‘linguistic rights’ these days. So it goes on and on. In one word, colloquialism happens. When that happens, what becomes of your vocabulary? It slowly goes down the drain and you’ll say goodbye to your Sunday’s best.

How do we interact

In oral language, sentence construction is loose and less carefully planned out. When we talk, we do not command the usage of numerous words in the dictionary, instead, we select our words from a much smaller set based on our access to them and on the environment we are currently in. This limited choice is revealed in our tendency to adorn our speech with hedges or unnecessary fillers like “well, like, you know, (which is commonly used by Manny Pacquaio) or basically,” a term that I am also guilty of excessively using when burdened with the task of speaking to an audience.

fillers

Let us take this as an example:

“She was still young enough so I…I just…was able to put her in an …uh-sort of…sling…I mean those tummy packs…you know.”

The said example is just an excerpt of an actual dialogue between two people and yes, when you are talking, there is nothing wrong with it. Except that our speech patterns are often than usual interwoven with our writing patterns these days. We no longer know the difference between the two and this is clearly observed when we are attempting to convey our ideas via print or voice. The common thought is – why make yourself miserable with carefully choosing your words and appropriately constructing your sentences when you can well be understood through easier, simpler means? The person who originally thought of this has a point. Why go through the long, winding road when a short cut was made possible to make our lives easier?

The answer is simple. Character. Other people choose the longer and often more difficult path because it molds and shapes them to become better individuals worthy of other people’s trust and respect. This is the same reason that stands for some individuals’ preference to be articulate rather than to be simple. Or at least, apply articulateness on occasions when it truly mattered. To make my point clearer, let me cite the ending of one of Bush’s celebrated speeches as an obvious example. This was the speech that ended with “…We have our marching orders, My fellow Americans. Let’s roll.” This ending, not only made Bush a topic for casual jests and snickers but it created a prejudicial impression of who he was and his capability as President then.

With this in mind, again, it boils down to the notion that “we write like we speak” and it has proven to be not as effective as we thought it would be.

How do mediums affect us

The convenience of modern technology has certainly changed the way we communicate. From landline phones to cellphones, from snail mails to emails – English has wasted away to short-cuts, abbreviations, acronyms and slangs. Our technology and culture are both pointing away from the print-centered way of life of the earlier generations who were bound to the standards of the English language. This was even supported in the survey conducted by the British Marketing Consultancy Firm: The Fourth Room. “According to the research, computer users today are too lazy to hit the ‘shift’ buttons on their keyboards – emails are frequently written entirely in lower case, with no capital letters for names in the beginning of sentences.”

Another case is the trend of technological usage, we spend a lot more time on our landlines or cellphones so we can keep in touch with our loved ones. Not only is it faster but it is also more practical. Phone cards allow us to talk to our families on the other side of the country without paying for an airfare, however, if we do not want our phone bill to be as massive as the fare we would have paid for, we will try to compound our messages and keep our phone time as short as deemed possible. In addition, in recent observations where network phone plans have made talking using landlines or cellphones cheaper and more frequent, we will eventually just talk with less reason to content ourselves with mediated type of human contact that would require our brains to work a fraction more. The same movement is observed when sending text messages via phone and/or chat rooms. Please read the following examples:

Text Message:
Boy: Wer u?
Girl: Me hir na
Boy: K. C u dr.

Facebook status of my 13-year old nephew :

josh

Do I need to cite more? I did not think so too. The point is, the recent generation’s manner of communicating has evolved and the simple examples above ar few of the results of this evolution that are fast becoming a way of life. The fact that we are so comfortable communicating in such a manner is a symptom of how our relationship to the English language has changed.

My reason for writing this is not to rant and demand for agreement. I simply wanted to make my points clear and encourage people to consider some of the scenarios that I have noted which have contributed to the change in the English language. The issue is not whether this will continue, as I know that it will, but the issue is on where this will take us and the generations thereafter. How then do we pass on the English language fully intact if we are faced with everything that was mentioned.

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Comments

  1. nosebleed! 😆 i wonder what prompted you to write this Den. if i was there, i bet you’d be ranting more about the reason for this “outburst”. hehehe. but very well said despite the internal hemorrhage going on in my brain cells right now. 😉

    • denramonal says:

      actually si ed kay nagnose bleed pud daw siya…tnx doi…you know naman how it is diba kung naay thought na musulod sa akong utok? hahaha…mishu bru!

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