I have found myself thinking recently on the future of language and the written word. Some of my thinking has been fueled by the conversation happening on the EME 5404 blog.
I’ve been struggling with the questions:
Who and when did we decide that our language was no longer going to change? That the evolution of language had stopped and that the way our language is right now is the way it should always be?
I don’t really know the history of the written word, but I do know that we as humans have been writing for thousands of years. Just from my own experiences in Israel, Jordan and the rest of the Middle East and Africa. We started by writing our stories in pictures, which was redefined over time by different cultures. Pictures led to symbols of which some cultures, like here in China, still use. Symbols led to the forming of an alphabet at some point, which has been redefined throughout the ages.
I’m not sure how it all happened, but I do know that I do not talk in the way in which Shakespeare writes. That there is something like five times as many words today as in Shakespeare’s time. The medium of which we write with and upon has also changed: From paint and brush, to stone and chisel, to ink and paper, to pencil and paper, to pen and paper, and now digital. As the medium has changed so has our language. The medium has allowed, and maybe even helped the evolution of our language.
Is the digital age redefining our language once again? I can’t help but look around at everyone text messaging, chatting, e-mailing, twittering, etc. and think that our language Is not changing. The cool part is this evolution happens on its own. This hit me again last night while I was watching my twitter messages and someone asked a question to their twitter friends. One of the friends responded:
@Dave: I do
Now…I’ve only been twittering for a couple of weeks, but who decided that when you wanted to direct a specific twitter message to one of your friends you used the @ symbol followed by their name? I looked for a twitter manual or a twitter language book and guess what….I couldn’t find one.
Communication in this day in age is about fast short messages. It started with e-mail and has slowly becoming quicker and shorter.
So this has me looking at the students walking out to the bus, the students walking the hallways and the 25 people I passed at the bus stop last night who were all text messaging on their phones (OK, maybe not all of them but I counted and it was 3 out of 5). This generation communicates in a very different way from the way I was taught, from the way I know how, and their way is much more efficient for their communication vehicles.
I am not saying we do not need to teach proper writing and English, but should we be teaching more than that? If we are preparing students for their future, should we be teaching them Instant Language (IL)? Let’s face it, as the pace of change continues to be exponential in nature the pace in which we communicate will continue to quicken as well.
This brings me to blogging and why I think blogging is more popular with our generation than with our students. Blogging is linear, you write in proper English. You write in complete sentences, words and thoughts. It speaks to us, we understand it, we like it; we know how to communicate in this way. My students struggle with blogging. They struggle with having to use so many words to get their message out there. I mean why right “Dave in response to your question, I do as well” when you can write “@Dave: I do?”
I almost feel like we are trying to force a round peg in a square whole. That we continue to force students to learn a way of writing, a language that is not suitable for today’s writing medium. Take myspace.com, very few well thought out posts. Alternatively, review an IM Chat session from someone in his or her teens, or just spend 10 minutes with your friends on twitter. What skills should we be teaching our students in Language Arts? The real question that keeps nagging at me is who is going to teach them to write in this new way? I sure the heck couldn’t teach it, and I’d bet most English teachers would slap me if I told them they need to teach IL in their classrooms.
By only teaching students to write “properly” (whatever that means), are we preparing them for our past, or their future? At what point do we stop yelling at students to write properly and embrace the evolution of the written word?
[tags]languages, 21st Century Learning, twitter[/tags]