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April 14, 2011
Pulling Back a Bit: Where's Language Headed?
 
Time to pull back for a moment and consider where we're heading in "expressionist" terms, that is, are we becoming more or less literate, more or less profound, in this unfolding era of digitally abundant information? This important question is raised in Nicholas Carr's new book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, and more accessibly, at the moment, in a blog post from Malta  by Conway Wigg. He writes about linguist David Crystal and some remarks he made recently in that Mediterrean republic on texting. (That a happening on Malta is so accessible to us is, of course, an example of the flighty roaming that the Web makes possible.)

Crystal has written a book entitled Txtng: The Gr8 Db8, surely a prize example of being into one's subject. Yet the news is good, apparently:  "All the research so far," Wigg reports, "shows that the advent of the text message has actually improved spelling and grammar." How's that come about? Well, "To be able to abbreviate, you need to know what you're abbreviating to begin with." And, "The practice of getting your message across briefly is making young people more effective writers, not less."  

Well, as we live through all this, if a great linguist says things are all right, that our brains aren't abbreviating things, maybe that's so.  Nicholas Carr has his doubts though, so these two authorities should be read together. Wigg offers from David Crystal's Malta appearance:

• "When printing arrived in the 15th century it was viewed as a disaster that would allow heresy to spread."

• "The arrival of the telephone had many people panicking that the ability to have a conversation without actually meeting them would be a disaster for society as people conducted relationships while staying at home."

So keep reading and reflecting on it all. Not surprisingly David Crystal's talk prompted "plenty of lively debate." But his bottom line, Wigg advises,  was that "language is a living, breathing thing, and the Web and mobile have simply given it a new energy that will make language and our use of it more effective."

Hopefully, that's so. But we've been resolved since finishing Nicholas Carr's book to read more books – though we skim across the Web daily, as well. 

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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