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Honey, I've shrunk language

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NEW TONGUES?Purists say SMS and email are robbing the English language of its poetry and lyricism
NEW TONGUES?Purists say SMS and email are robbing the English language of its poetry and lyricism

Slang, abbreviations, acronyms, and now SMS. Is the English language withstanding such periodic assaults on its grammar and beauty? asks AMRITA NAYAK

"Hi, ho' r u? I m f9, than' u. Nt herd 4m u since a lon' tim. Do wr8 2 me wen u r fre. Ok?" If you thought this was some alien language, take another look. This is the current phase in human communication, where words are not entirely spelt out (do I hear teachers screaming?). And it has caught the fancy of youngsters to become an essential part of youth identity. In colleges, cafes and all those places which young people frequent, one can come across this kind of mutilated language. While the cool set terms it as a style statement, language experts grudgingly term it as Phonological Revolution.

Problem language

Correct spelling and pronunciation of English words are not easy because words are not spelt as they sound. This is due in part to the eclectic nature of English, its readiness to accept loan words from other languages, and partly due to the antiquity of the language. Over time, the pronunciation of words has changed and it is often difficult for a writing system to keep up. So, today's youngsters would prefer krystl to crystal, audi to auditorium, and so on. And don't blame it on SMS alone."Email is being blamed for every nasty trend in word use," says Herschell Gordon Lewis in the publication, Direct. Some are of the opinion that instant messengers and chat users have compromised greatly on the use of the English language by introducing slang, abbreviations and acronyms. It is one thing to use such informal communication between friends, but media reports speak of children writing notes and exams using abbreviations and acronyms. Former California University lecturer Paul Franklin Ryder reasons: "Part of the reason young people are evolving their own spelling is because the correct spelling of English is so full of pointless exceptions and illogicalities." Research on the origin of slang takes us back to the times when hacking was introduced. Early hackers are believed to have developed this shortened version of the language. Today, this trend in language use is common with youngsters, college students and professionals alike. Ryder feels the evolution and adoption of this new linguistic mode is indicative of the ingenuity, efficiency and intelligence of today's youth. This new language mode is known as leet.According to the website www.technewsworld.com, leet has grown to represent attitudes and subcultures and is challenging traditional patterns of communication. The cultural attitudes and some of the early slang behind leet can be traced to the 1970s and early 1980s, the heyday of the phone phreak era. This is the time when computer bulletin board systems (BBSs) became available in the 1980s. Phone phreak culture gained a written medium in online exchanges that were often so slow and clumsy users would shorten words or phrases to be able to send messages more conveniently. For example, `you are' or `your' is shortened to u r or ur.Shreesha, a final year MBA student at NITTE, says: "People these days want communication to be short, easily pronounced, time-saving and understood. That's why the current trend of shortened words is happening all over."

Blame TV

Her friend Kishore feels that "the main reason for the lingo is the media, especially TV. Channels like MTV and Channel V have made English a stylish language to speak. And of course, the imitation of Western culture also goes into it." But Karthik Gadiyar, a B.E. Electrical student at NITK, Suratkal, opines that short forms are due to lack of time as youngsters are too busy coping with studies and catching up on cool. "Youngsters are too lazy now, that's why all these style fundas," is the observation of Rachita Shetty, a student of computer science.Premlatha Raj, a retired professor of English, now teaches Linguistics and Phonology to Speech Therapists at KMC. She says: "Earlier versions of English such as pidgin was created only to facilitate commercial communication which was an authentic reason for the language to get a new bifurcation. But what is happening these days is just for comfort, fun and ease of communication. It is robbing the language of its genuineness."But there is a bright side to all this as well. Such mutilation has not dented the use of conventional English. People still try to be punctilious when it comes to less informal means of communication.

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