When will people realise that technology doesn’t wreck language?
Ok, so shame on me for doing such a short post on Saturday, but Rebecca and I were heading down to Cambridge and I had (literally) about two minutes to type something up before I was being corralled out of the flat… I never even had time to properly tag my post I was that strapped for time.
Anyway, quite a lot has been written about Fiennes’ comments about Twitter (and I’m not even going to try and compete with the brilliant analysis/discussion over the the Language Log, here, here and here), but Fiennes’ comments bely a deeper distrust among certain sections of society on the detrimental impact technology (supposedly) has on language. It speaks more generally of the assumed superiority of the printed form, of the divide between standard and non-standard linguistic markets, and of the decline in the ability of people (usually young people) to express complex ideas or concepts in text (because, after all, how much detail can you squeeze into 140 characters?)
But technology has always been the fall-guy for alleged declines in standards (often without any sort of empirical evidence to support this claim), and historically, we can see a change in peoples’ attitudes towards language standards as new technology is introduced, from text messages (here and here), to the internet, instant messaging, radio (I’m not sure how far tongue in cheek that one is…), and Americans (principally through television and movies). Honestly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out if people moaned about how ‘English is going to the dogs’ once the printing press was introduced to Britain, but my mad research skillz don’t turn anything up (I’m sure they would have though).
But Ralph’s comments should be entirely unsurprising, given that technology is blamed for a whole host of social ills, including making us more lazy, more dumb, more anti-social, and more violent, to name just a few. In spite of the all the positives that come out of embracing and exploiting technology, it’s easier to blame an easily identifiable external ’cause’ (like technology) for all that’s wrong with the world…
Ugh, and it seems every sociolinguist’s favourite linguist, Noam Chomsky, got in on the act a few months ago…
- The Social Linguist