Drawls in Print

I was watching a Tivoed show last night in which these two linguist dudes go to far away places to document dying languages. You see, linguists like to look at how languages mix and intermingle, how they evolve through various colonizations and wars.

I’ve thought about all this before, but not as it pertains to some tribe living in Siberia. I’ve thought about this in terms of the English language that we speak everyday. I’m endlessly fascinated by little variances that happen between regions. I’m even more fascinated by the effect that the internet and text messaging are having on us. Am I about to indict everyone who abbreviates “wtf?” No.

John McWhorter made an excellent point is his book, Doing Our Own Thing. Little changes in English are natural progressions that happen in a living language. Am I OK with people not knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re?” Hell to the no, but I think that the inventions that we’ve come up with out of necessity are still interesting.

With the growing popularity of Twitter and text messaging, does this mean that we’re going to come up with increasingly less-charactered ways of talking to each other? The people on Twitter have found ways to abbreviate a lot of stuff because of Twitter’s 140-character limit. I even had to look up “fml” on urbandictionary.com (“fuck my life”). Will the increasing popularity of the internet slowly merge all languages into one language? It would certainly simplify things, even if it would homogenize us a lot. Will the internet cause us to lose regional slang? Will people ever agree on a way to pronounce “syrup” and “pecan?” For example…

I follow the tweets of someone who tends to greet us with “what’s good?” I finally broke down and asked him if said question was rhetorical. He’s pretty much using it like “what’s up,” but I had never heard this expression before. He only lives 8 hours away.

There was recently a big to-do about a contestant on American Idol telling judges “be careful” as he was leaving the room. Those of us in the south know that he meant it like “drive safely” or “take care,” but the Idol judges took it as some kind of threat. Idol eventually issued an apology, worded in such a way as to imply that Kentucky (home of said contestant) was some other planet.

I’m still a grammar nazi at heart, but I also really enjoy slang. It’s a little snapshot of the time where we live. “Rad” screams 1980s, and “sweet” says 2000s. If you know what a grizzy is, you’re either from the hood or listening to rap music. If you’ve ever spoken the phrase “handstapleforehead,” you’re probably goth. The way we speak says a lot about where we’re from, but the way we type does, too. In a world where we type as much as we talk, it may pay for us to learn to hear an accent in type.

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