On The Bastardization of My Mothertongue and the Chasm Between Those Who Net & Those What Don’t…

This is a guest post by my friend Marrus, a New Orleans based artist who recently published her first book, Lightsurfing. I’ve watched her grow in her use of social media over the past several years and thought this piece of hers would be fantastic reading for our audience here on SocialGumbo.  So here you go, something to ponder about the state of the English language and communications. If you enjoy it go pay her a visit at marrusart.com! -Loki

Something whack has been happening when I speak. And a similar whackitude is happening when I write.

I’ve always had this thing about wanting to be absolutely, clearly understood. (And yes, I know it’s impossible). With the preponderance of written correspondence, I’ve found that I’m peppering my missives with more and more emoticons and acronyms. That “WTF” has become spoken, rather than just written. That my few remaining Luddite friends stare blankly when I interject LOL-speak into a conversation. “ROFLCOPTERED” has become a word. Gah.

And emoticons. I’m just as likely to end a typed sentence in “O_o” or “;)” as I am a period or exclamation point. I hate the chilliness of the black word on white screen, and I will sink to these minimalist cartoons to inject personality into my intent. I know I’m not alone in this, and I’m wondering if this is good or bad for the language.

I know that English is an malleable, morphing, inclusive, vibrant, twisty, sculptural, mercurial, absorptive whore. I think that’s a good thing. But I’m watching a dividing line growing between those who are tech-savvy and those who are not. An impatience with reading more than three paragraphs, or, jeebus forefend, 140 characters on one side. On the other, an insistent ignorance of how net language is changing the way we think, speak, act. Maybe all in keeping with the way English grows & changes anyway. Perhaps the flood of new words and punctuation adds to its structure, and makes us think & inter-relate in new ways.

But I know I’m guilty of dismissing someone who types in all caps as an idiot. (I’ve actively heard the imaginary yelling.) I suspect I’m not alone. If someone doesn’t know what a LOLcat is – are you done with her? Someone else isn’t good at checking email – is your friendship over? An old friend doesn’t bother with MyFaceJournal. Do you not bother with him anymore? Is the separation between net & not-net savvy the new cultural divide?

The way I have conversations has changed. I spoke to my mother a while back and she asked how I was doing. I barely began to respond when she cut me off: “I already read that on your blog.” I have strangers bring up things I wrote about five years before, launching into an unremembered conversation I forgot I started. I’m falling out of touch with beloved friends because they aren’t online. I’m getting frustrated with having to repeat in person what I got tired of typing about six months earlier.

It’s like living on multiple meta-levels. I can’t keep track of which conversations I have with whom, where. Don’t know if I know someone online or in person. Don’t know how to set my face when I’m working a show, cuz someone comes up to me grinning like we’re best friends, and I don’t know who they are til they give me their screen name. It’s insane.

(Yeah, I know I’m all over the place again. Time to spend more time on my bike & in the studio than at the computer.)



  1. I don’t think any of this is any different that what happened when newspapers first went into print or radio first hit the airwaves or TV become available. Once you put yourself out there on a larger platform designed to reach larger numbers, those larger numbers are going to turn out to be Real People who feel a real connection with you.

    I was a reporter for 30 years, in print, on radio and on TV. I was always amazed at how many folks just assumed they were my ol’ buddy just because the read/heard/saw what I did for a paycheck. This led directly to (literally) how they would conduct things in their daily lives. So it’s no surprise to me how this has manifested itself in a world that’s even faster and more reactive.


  2. I think your final thought is most important. Sometimes the best thing to do is shut the laptop, get offline and go outside for a while :)

    Also, reminded me of a good article I read a couple weeks ago at Guardian.co.uk on how texting (same principal as tweeting) can improve language skills: http://bit.ly/YwLvm

    – David

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