In a recent interview, Noam Chomsky, a linguistics professor at MIT, argued that we can blame Twitter for the langu-apocalypse – the demise of the English written word.
“An awful lot of communication [today] is extremely rapid, very shallow communication. Text messaging, Twitter…[they] erode normal human relations and make them more shallow.”
LOL. But in all seriousness, are a couple of hashtags, shortened words and ironic “z’s” thrown on the end of acronyms signaling the end of literary sanity? Eloquence and clarity? Intelligence as we may (or may not) know it? Maybe. Or maybe we’ve reached the linguistic equivalent of Y2K – and maybe these language snobs are trembling with their tea cups for no reason.
In an article recently posted on The Atlantic Wire, University of Pennsylvania linguistics professor Mark Liberman argues that his findings have showed us the exact opposite of what Chomsky claims. When comparing word length from UPenn’s paper The Daily Pennsylvania’s tweets to text from Hamlet, Liberman found that the mean word length from the paper’s Twitter feed was actually longer than that of Hamlet – comparing 3.99 characters in Hamlet to the 4.80 characters in the tweets.
Others argued that even if language does prove to falter at the hands of technology, it doesn’t matter too much. As New York Times’s reporter Ben Zimmer points out, “Social scientists can simply take advantage of Twitter’s stream to eavesdrop on a virtually limitless array of language in action.” Now, analysts can streamline their studies, using the simplified version of text from Twitter and other social media sites to more quickly gauge points of interest.
It’s easy to argue yearn for the past when changes are underway. But language evolves and adapts overtime, and with time, we learn to accept and embrace our new linguisitc zeitgeist – outside of the renaissance fair circuit, I don’t think many people are arguing for a return to medieval English in everyday life. Sure, acronyms and abbreviations may not be the most eloquent forms of the English language, but as short-hand forms of communication become more prevalent, we learn to say the most with the least. We’re getting closer to what we actually want to say, instead of embracing the roundabout pompous language that turns textbooks into pillows.
By: Melanie Kruvelis
(Photo courtesy of higheredmorning.com)