An interesting new story caught my eye this week, as it showed how a big an influence new technology is having on the way we speak.
The scholars who compile and update the Oxford English Dictionary aren’t known for making changes easily, so we can only imagine the scratching of learned heads as they found themselves forced to admit that LOL deserves a placed in the dictionary.
The official statement from the OED people is that this and some other new additions such as OMG and FYI are part of the “language of electronic communications”. Perhaps more controversial is the decision to include a heart graphic as a verb, as in to love something. The OED people state that it could be the first addition to the dictionary which has come about “via the medium of T-shirts and bumper-stickers”, but there is no doubt that the underlying theme in all of these changes is that we now prefer things which are quicker and more fun to type, even if they can’t be spoken or wouldn’t make sense if you were to speak them.
While these all look like modern phrases, an interesting piece of research from the experts tells us that OMG may not be quite as new as it seems. They have uncovered a letter from 1917 which uses the abbreviation, while FYI has been around for more than half a century. It simply seems that they are now more widespread because of technology rather than having been born in the modern world.
One issue which the English language seems to be rather saved from is a decline in the standard of people’s written words due the increased technology. In more phonetic languages such as Spanish there is currently a deal of concern about a drop in standards due to the deliberate misspelling of words in texts and emails, e.g. instead of “que” (“what” or “that”) it is common practice to use the similar sounding but completely incorrect “k”. This is, according to some experts, leading to confusion about how to spell words properly.
It seems that in the case of English the proliferation of new words and phrases is causing a quite different effect and is actually enriching the language. This is perhaps related to the fact that there seems to be a clear division between the words we use in emails / texts and those which we use in more formal situations.
One final point about language and technology comes from the Cherokee Nation. There are now around just 300,000 members of this proud race of indigenous Americans, and they can now search Google using their own tongue. While this might seem like a celebration of an endangered language becoming more commonly used it is actually more to do with the Cherokee leaders trying to find a way to appeal to younger members of their community and realising that they can’t do this without embracing modern technology.