Years from now, people may look back upon our era and wonder if people really talked like that. I mean seriously: we use long sentences. We may bracket several thoughts between a capital letter and a period. We spell all the words out – completely!
LOL, they will say.
But they probably will not say that at all. The pseudo-language of our texting, chatting, and IM-ing seems to be an evolutionary transit for us. The methods and means at our disposal for the communication of thought and ideas are not only compressing the signs and symbols we use, but they are also changing it in vital ways. As someone who likes observing these shifts, I notice subtle changes from the narrative to imagistic. Whereas, at one stage in my life, I might have written long passages about how I feel on a certain day, I may replace it now with 🙂 and it would mean EXACTLY the same thing.
The poets may struggle with this.
The language of the future may look completely different. One sign of the transformation, as I see it, is the hashtag. Introduced by Twitter as a means of grouping similar ideas, the hashtag is now seeping into other social media forms as well. And I begin to see it in more traditional writing as well. As a symbol, it is a derivation of the number sign and had relatively little practical use before. Never as common as the ampersand (&) or even the ampersat (@), the number sign (or the hash key or the pound sign depending on your origins) has been given new life by becoming the hashtag – a new symbol in the new language.
The hashtag is an overt manifestation of coding script. It basically signals a distinct meaning by itself. It implies the existence of an entire class. One can create a hashtag for anything – even if the class does not yet exist – and it signals a wealth of meaning which may not have been otherwise expressible. I am brought to mind of this in something I saw today. It was a photo on Facebook of a street scene from the 1960s. The scene brought a lot of ideas to mind – earlier times, simpler times, an implication of uncomplicated life, and many others. But the inscription was much pithier.
The imposition of the hashtag carries the message that everything about which you are thinking when you see this photo is part of a greater discussion which you have yet to uncover. It is not an old-fashioned scene; it is part of the genus.
Before I start getting nasty comments from people who think that I am merely being nostalgic about the language and speaking as an epigone, it should be said that I am simply fascinated with watching the transformation of the language in real time. I am not sure that I will be able to overturn my several decades of conditioning in order to adapt to it fully. I will still avoid ending sentences with prepositions, writing in fragments, and beginning sentences with conjunctions.
English has no final authority and cannot be a prescriptive language. It will always change and adapt freely with usage. This does mean that seeing things like “I can haz cheezburger” will always rub me the wrong way, but no one can or should stand in the way of this (r)evolution. It means that we are outgrowing the old means of expression and embracing something wider and new.
My generation is slowly being unlanguaged by the nature of language itself. If we do not make the effort to keep pace and change, future generations of people will struggle to understand what we mean – not the other way around.