Sunday, April 19, 2009

Twitter gives descriptivists a treat...

...or a tweet. In this article from the Greensboro News Record, Mike Clark takes a look at arguments about outside influences on our own ways of communicating: be they accents in new areas we move to, or technologies like texting and Twitter. He makes a number of interesting points for English Language students about how our individual language (idiolect) changes based on the contexts we're using it in and goes on to suggest that we'll switch between different types of language:

How you talk is often influenced by where you are, by the context of the communication, and that’s just fine. Kids who are born and spend a few years in one part of the country and then move with their families to another will often become bi-dialectal. They’ll play with their new neighbors outdoors, speaking with the patois of those new friends, and revert to the dialect of their own family when they’re in the house. I feel pretty confident that the same transformation can occur, will occur, in fact, does occur with today’s young people as they move from technology-based talking to formal writing, from daily talk to giving a speech, and so on.


Far from being responsible for the demise of formal written English that some prescriptivists have argued, texting and Twitter messages might actually help us develop clearer and more creative language styles:

And think about those parameters. Imagine what a good exercise it is to write something in 140 characters (including punctuation and spaces) max. I think it was Pascal who wrote: “I’m sorry for the long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.” If you’re a teacher, you must like that kind of discipline for your students; it forces them to focus, to write with attention and precision. The preceding sentence is 141 characters. Can you effectively remove one character? Twitter people can, even the young ones. Let’s say hello to a new age of talking.

2 comments:

writermike said...

Thanks ever so much for posting excerpts from my column and for commenting on the thoughts it expressed.

I send best wishes for fun language studies and for plenty of London sunshine (said for the lulz).

-mike clark

Dan said...

Thanks, Mike. There's lots of prescriptive technophobia about things like text messaging, social networking and twitter around in the media, but it was good to see your more rational and open-minded take on it all. There's some more Twitter & language stuff here if you haven't already come across it: http://englishlangsfx.blogspot.com/2009/06/t-weet-t-who.html