Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Twitter generation loses love of lexis"

...or so this story in today's Daily Mail would have you believe. According to the article, words like cripes, shenanigans and cad are all dying out because younger generations simply don't know what they bally mean (And it's perhaps not just the fault of the younger generation but technology as well because my spell-checker has just red-lined both cripes and bally.).

The story seems to be linked to the publication of a survey for the book Planet Word (presumably a tie-in to Stephen Fry's BBC series of the same name) and to be fair, the expert they quote, the author of the book JP Davidson, doesn't bemoan the alleged decline, but has this to say:

This could be viewed as regrettable, as there are some great descriptive words that are being lost and these words would make our everyday language much more colourful and fun if we were to use them.

'But it's only natural that with people trying to fit as much information in 140 characters that words are getting shortened and are even becoming redundant as a result.

'The folly is to try and stem the tide of the new whether they emerge from rap, technology, teenspeak, or the multitude of jargons that we invent to make shortcuts and communication more efficient between groups. 

This sounds like good sense and isn't in any way as prescriptive as the rest of the Mail's tone (managing of course to tie in some aspect of British identity being eroded as it always does), but the comments from Mail readers start to pour scorn on such descriptive views, arguing (among other things) that the once proud language of Shakespeare is now degenerating into a series of txt-grunts (a kind of Crumbling Castle model for the text generation) and that young people are doing it because they "are even allowed to use text speech in exams now", conveniently (or stupidly) misunderstanding the difference between studying and using. D'oh!

But, there is an interesting argument to be had here over the potentially limiting effects of technology on our lexicon - both individual and shared - because as this new app demonstrates, predictive texting has evolved to offer us predictive messaging. 
 
Swift Key screen
 
Instead of just predicting the word we are typing, this app starts to predict the next set of words, offering us phrases or even whole clauses, based on what we have typed before. There's an example here.

And it's even cleverer than it first appears because it can use your existing style from Facebook, email and your previous messages, building a mini-corpus of your own style and then suggesting these back to you when it is appropriate. 
 
So, what's the problem? If your own style is being reinforced, basically echoing your own lexical and grammatical choices, you might end up with an ever-decreasing range of language choices. If, every time you type a message, you're offered a set of choices influenced by your own database of language, will you be railroaded into a restricted set of words?

Ultimately, will this lead us into a reduced set of lexical and grammatical choices, fulfilling the Mail's to hell in a handcart predictions in the article above?

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