Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The gr8 deb8

Many years ago, I was present while language changed before my eyes.

It was in the sixties; the laser had recently been invented, and I was using one of the first, for research. LASER, as you know, is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, but it soon became a word on its own, subject to inflections and conjugations.

I still remember the first time I heard "lase" used as a verb ("I hope it lases without a lot of realignment;" "it lased for a while, then quit."), and "lasing" as an adjective (How's the lasing action this morning?")

I was astounded that for the first time in my awareness there was a new word, not one rooted in Latin or Greek or any other foundational language.
In the fifty years since, many other changes have taken place: new usage, new vocabulary, new spelling.

It's easy to guess what motivates some of the severely abbreviated language we're seeing these days: using a 3-inch keyboard with 1/4-inch keys that butt against each other with a fingertip that's at least 50% wider. We aim for as few strokes as possible to get the message across.

I read that 82 million people regularly text, and many more email. To accommodate Maddie Porter, my 11-year-old protagonist in the Miniature Mysteries, I've researched and bookmarked netlingo sites.

The main characteristics are
1. Abbreviations and acronyms, such as LOL for laugh-out-loud and BTW for by the way;
2. Letter/number homophones, such as gr8 and b4.
3. Nonstandard spelling, such as luv and cuz.

Texting and email language affect not only spelling, but grammar.

I often omit "I" in emails. For example, I usually sign off, "Hope all is well." With my address in the "from" line, it should be clear who's doing the hoping.

Wonder if the use of subject pronoun will go the way of romance languages. In Italian, "I hope" is simply "spero." No one uses the "io" for "I" unless she wants to emphasize the I, as in: I, of all people hope (and probably you don't).
I (for emphasis) embrace the change.

Most of the changes we see today simplify, rather than complicate, our language, and I see that as a change for the better.

How about you? As writers, do you have your characters speak "correctly" or do you accommodate different ages and usages?

As readers, how do you react to new usage in a book?


Dru said...

I think it's great because it means that our vocabulary is increasing and since the average person is competing with other forms of communications from TV, cellphones to the Internet.

Monica Ferris said...

I don't mind new usage in a book when the characters use it, but it gives me an unpleasant start when the narrator writes, "I should of known better," instead of "I should have known better."

Anonymous said...

My characters' speech varies. When Molly is speaking to close friends and family, she might say, "I hightailed it out of there." When she's being the paralegal/English major, she might say, "I left as quickly as I could." Mr. Archie says, "Molly ain't done nothing wrong, and you might as well quit griping 'cause there ain't nothing you can do about it." Most of my characters aren't comfortable with netlingo. I read your post title as "The great debt" and then "The great debut" before getting it right.

Are standard and non-standard English merging? College instructors tell me their students' essays are filled with B4s and Gr8s. That said, a non-spelling relative who uses all the little truncations on Facebook makes his posts much easier for the rest of us to read.

Camille Minichino said...

Ouch, that would bother me, Monica!

Betty Hechtman said...

Dinah, one of my characters in the crochet mysteries, teaches freshman English at a community college, and she is upset that her students are starting to write papers in what I called "text talk" like lol or k for okay.

Camille Minichino said...

You'd think "OK" would be short enough!

Linda O. Johnston said...

Language and grammar seem always to be morphing, Camille. I like some of it, but don't enjoy having to ask for definitions of acronyms and abbreviations! I try to make my characters sound age-appropriate but want my readers to understand what they're saying. So far, I haven't had any characters who speak in text messages, but that could come.

Camille Minichino said...

If you ever worked with engineers, you'd be overwhelmed by an entire acronym language!
They take every three-word phrase and turn it into an acronum. INK (I'm not kidding.)

Kathryn Lilley said...

I've written texted dialogue between characters a couple of times as an alternative to a phone call between two people who were geographically separated. I don't text (how's that for a new verb, by the way?), so I had to do research (and double-check the lingo with my daughter) to get the rhythm right. It was an effective device, but I wouldn't overuse it.

Camille Minichino said...

I hadn't thought of that -- I text, you text, we text ...

I feel that if I take a nap, I'm going to miss a revolution in ... something!

Ellen said...

The linguistic fashion that's driving me bats of late is the attempt to force irregular verbs into a regular form. All that effort learning them, being rejected!