Teenagers and the effect on language 

Deep in the reeds you can see all the wildlife here, but wait. Just go above, and rarer than any mammal, any whale, is the prescriptivisoras aquaticas. It swims, it dives, it sinks. It sinks because its argument against the unsuspecting teen, accused of ‘disgracing the English language’, didn’t stand up. The grey, swordfish-like creature is often triumphant as it swims the waters searching for its prey — teens who use non-standard English — but not this time. Innocent and not hurting anyone, teens are ridiculed and, quite frankly, attacked by such prescriptivisoras aquaticas (and the human version, prescriptivists…’lol’). Is it such a bad thing for teens to tap into the technology era of ‘text-speak’, and use slang in speech? Does it have a knock-on-effect for worsening literacy rates? Will the prescriptivisoras aquaticas rein victorious and spear all those who dare to speak in ways they deem ‘unacceptable’?  

  According to John Humphrys, the simple answer is yes; prescriptivists can, should and will pull up those who ‘dishonour’ the English language. According to him, as a prescriptivist himself, he states that the new era of texting and text-speak, is doing monumental damage, irreparable damage, to the apparently sacred language; it is deviating from the traditional eloquence, and is introducing a new variety of language that by all accounts, is wrong; ‘…vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours 800 years ago’ …hmmm. 

   Perhaps one of the biggest issues surrounding the perceived teen language, and more specifically texting in teen language, is the notion that, as touched upon previously, the English language will suffer drastically. In many years to come, will we have the words we have now, with all their silent letters and elaborate ways of spelling? Or will we have a dictionary of newfound abbreviations and ‘misspellings’, as it has become the norm, generalised to spell that way as that’s simply how it has evolved? Even though it is true that any language evolves over time, the huge concern here is that this evolution is wrong somehow…but how uneducated and uninformed is this comment? Just because texting falls under the ‘heinous’ (in some peoples’ mind) umbrella term of technology, they instinctively discredit it and regard it as irrelevant and even useless; how on earth can texting be useful to language evolution?! Well, it may be surprising, but it actually can! The generations involved in ‘text-speak’, the ‘now teenagers’, are always in contact with their friends. Even after coming home after being out with friends on a day out, where conversation was probable, they come home and can still continue to communicate through texting and talking on social media. The exposure to literacy is greater than ever before. Never in previous generations have people been so close to literacy as they are now; the constant world at our fingertips now means that we’re constantly reading and writing, engaging in this ‘online literacy’, meaning that we’re becoming far more literate and creative when it comes to language, which is obviously a good thing for language evolution. This directly backs up the point made by descriptivist David Crystal. He defends new technologies, saying they are a part of the evolution process, just how the world works. 

   Another problem that’s associated with teen language, I wish to dispel, is the idea that ‘text-speak’ will seep into formal situations like exams, or when writing important documents like a CV, for example. Prescriptivists warn that teens will, and are, finding it increasingly difficult to ‘code-switch’ — knowing when to use informal and formal language. They believe that soon enough, we will see a whole host of initialisms, acronyms, slang, etc, in exam papers and even in conversation! When a group of teens were asked about code-switching by a researcher, however, their responses were clear, they are intelligent enough, and believe it’s the same for all children their age, to know when to use formal language; ‘from a young age, and again and again if needed, we are told and taught correct grammar in school…I guess there will always be kids who are illiterate and naturally don’t grasp language or grammar well, but that’s just the way it is. Texting definitely isn’t to blame.’ This statement alone should clear up any worry, but, to further understand how this isn’t a problem…

   The fear of abbreviations and acronyms etc, making their way into important situations, is silly. All we have to do is take a look back. The first citation of ‘OMG’, dates back to 1917 in the Oxford English Dictionary, found in a letter from British Admiral Arbuthnot Fisher, to, surprisingly, Winston Churchill. Alas, to give teenagers all the credit for such expressions is clearly incorrect. As an ageing sea-dog, the Admiral was probably not under the influence of those pesky teens… This does however beg the most important question: How, when at sea, did Admiral Arbuthnot elude those prescriptivisoras aquaticas, and live to tell the tale? 

   Another problem people may argue, is that texting in the new technology era, can alienate older generations from the younger. Professor Bauerline’s research found that there is an idea of age segregation caused by technology. We often hear this, more than we may initially imagine. I guess you could say it’s common for occurrences of age segregation, but can often go unnoticed in everyday life. 

‘I lived without a computer and mobile phone when I was your age.’ Yeah well your parents lived without a microwave and the polio vaccine but I don’t see you giving those things up. 

‘Your generation is too reliant on technology’, my grandpa says. 

‘No, your generation is too reliant on technology’, I retort, pulling the plug on his life support machine to further prove my point. 

These are of course two lighthearted ‘digs’ at the subject. What is important to realise, however, is that technology — just like language — is constantly evolving, go back 500 years and it’s possible similar conversations could be heard. There will always be distinct differences in generations, just like there always has been, it’s nothing new. 

   Deep in the reeds, you can see all the wildlife here, but wait. Just go above and rarer than any mammal, any whale, is the prescriptivisoras aquaticas. It swims, it dives, it doesn’t sink. Instead, it keeps on swimming, because it realised its opinions and ideals are solely based on fantasy, and are not shared by everyone. 


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