New technologies to communicate have already changed the approach ofthe last few generations. The advent of spell check has reduced spelling skills to the point that governments throughout the western world are frantically trying to address the rebound against them from devotees of the “Three R’s” approach. As you know, it’s no easy task
to teach, especially when there’s a total lack of interest in the topic on the part of your students. Now we have phonetxt messages and online chats also changing communication patterns, moving away from the perfectionist approach of knowing how a word is spelt (no easy task, in the English language) and using the correct word to convey shades of
meaning, to using the least amount of words and characters to convey your intent.
So now, we’re moving towards having only one standard left for most young people today: functionality. Purity is seen as irrelevant.
What implications is this likely to have for our language, which has evolved over centuries, amalgamating terms from other languages and cultures as it grew? It’s one of the most difficult to learn (I should know, I speak a few others), counter intuitive in many cases – especially in colloquialisms and sayings, with so many redundant terms that we have a whole book to address them: the thesaurus. It’s not a small book, either. Theoretically, all these terms are supposed to have nuances that distinguish them from each other, but in reality many people each have their own understanding of what these nuances are and it’s frequent that they don’t match.
Here’s the question, though: if our language evolves towards a more concise, purely functional model as it seems to be doing, then as we lose common awareness of the ‘long form’ words that add shades of meaning to a concept, does our culture lose awareness of the depths of understanding we’ve already explored in favour of a surface level grasp
of the basics? Remember George Orwell’s “1984″ where control of the language was used to control thought? I know from personal experience that one of the hardest aspects of learning a second language is grasping the concepts that aren’t used in your own.
Would / Could specialisation counter this linguistic culling by developing levels of jargon for the deeper level concepts in each field, or would exploration of the deeper layers of our culture fade away as the language to express it disappears? I already see a trend that many people are choosing to live ‘surface level lives’ where they seek no more than functionality and conformity in surviving, working, recreation and procreation – and never explore what they want to do with their lives or pursue interests and passions of their own. They “live” vicariously through things like soaps and more recently realityTV
shows, but refuse to chase any dreams themselves. Many people’s relationships have become equally shallow – it’s about the number of contacts in your network, not the depths of your friendships anymore. To someone who cares passionately about life, social issues and self-realisation it’s tragic and frustrating to watch. On the brighter side, though, there also seems to be a counter-movement of people who are almost addicted to personal development and growth (I’m one), exploring the deeper issues and finding or creating meaning. Not the majority, but a very vocal minority.
It’s a form of stratification along the same lines as class divisions used to be, except the criteria is levels of engagement with life. Or maybe levels of conformity. Is there a difference?
So if the majority of people conform to expectations and there’s a smaller pool of people seeking to expand learning and understanding, will enrolment into sciences and exploratory fields start to decline?
I don’t have statistics, but I believe from my reading of newspaper and magazine articles on the topic that it may already be the case. I’ve already spoken on the evolution of humanity into a hive format. Is this another facet? Could our technology be changing our
language towards a stratified, hierarchical, functional division of the next evolution of our race – into worker humans, soldiers, artisans, thinkers & ‘queens’?