Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Is IM killing language? Depends on who you ask

Wired News has an unsurprisingly fascinating article today (link goes to text-only version), covering this year's meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC. The theme of this year's conference was how such technology as IM and blogging is changing the linguistics of how humans communicate; among the presenters the article features was professor David Crystal, discussing the history of such tech-inspired linguistic changes, and researcher Naomi Baron, who recently completed an extensive study of how college students use instant messengering in their daily lives.

The article brings up a good point, that we tend to forget about in our modern age - that before the popular rise of telephones, conventional society tended to differentiate between the language used for writing and the language used for talking. When this boundary first started breaking down back then, not only because of phones but also from the increasing popularity of the telegraph, traditionalists once again decried the death of "traditional" English; without this intermingling between high and low language, however, we would've never had the works of such authors as Hemingway, Steinbeck and Vonnegut, and certainly not the popularity of pleasure-reading among the general public that we do now. Not to mention, Ms. Baron's research points to a surprising conclusion - that far from remaining the truncated shorthand most high-school IM conversations constitute, IM chats between college students become more and more expressive, and closer to closer to "traditional" English, the older the students get. These are both important points to contemplate, I think, before simply assuming that emoticons are going to bring about the downfall of society.