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Society & Success

Mind language in your short message

Tweeting: In its relatively short life-span, researchers say that technology has had a more profound effect on the English language than any other event in the history of mankind. Photo/REUTERS
Tweeting: In its relatively short life-span, researchers say that technology has had a more profound effect on the English language than any other event in the history of mankind. Photo/REUTERS 

I feel like strangling a friend for continually using badly spelled SMS language.

This means that she abbreviates every word where possible, so that reading a note from her means wading through a number of words that are missing their vowels or that have to be said out loud in order to be understood as English.

Her use of “ha” in the place of “her” is particularly annoying.

Affecting our language

Like any other facet of life, it looks like technology is already affecting our language.

I had no idea how far this went until the other day I opened an e-mail from a high-ranking corporate executive that was written thus: “ya, we wld b plsed 2 mit & diskus. Set tym”.
In its relatively short life-span, researchers say that technology has had a more profound effect on the English language than any other event in the history of mankind.

This development has researchers around the world scrambling to find out the effect of short texts or predictive text on the attention spans of the upcoming generation, and probably with good cause.

From the formal adoption of technology-related words such as ‘retweeting’ or ‘textspeak’ into the Oxford English Dictionary to the prevalence of pre-set messages that are in-built into your software, it may be time to start worrying about our languages.

Recently, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science found that regional slang and dialects are now becoming commonplace, and the effect is creating regionalised pockets of badly-spelt words that pass as English.

Jacob Eisenstein, a post-doctoral fellow in CMU’s Machine Learning Department, said the automated method he and his colleagues have developed for analysing Twitter word use shows that regional dialects appear to be evolving within social media.

In northern California, something that’s cool is “koo” in tweets, while in southern California, it’s “coo.”

In many cities, “something” is “sumthin,” but tweets in New York City favour “suttin.”

While many people might complain in tweets of being “very” tired, people in northern California tend to be “hella” tired, New Yorkers “deadass” tired.

In Kenya, you are likely to be “#tired”, to say “meh”, which signifies tiredness and boredom or to say “Nyt” once they log off social networks.

Regional variation

As an indicator as to how entrenched these new turns of phrase are becoming within society, Mr Eisenstein said his research could potentially be used to recognise regional variation in word use and topics could predict the location of a microblogger with a median error of about 300 miles.

So are we doomed to a future where spelling prowess takes a back-seat to the ability to squeeze this entire column into a message of just 140 characters?

Tech will rule

To put this phenomenon into perspective, turn to the wordy explanation of Ben Zimmer, who writes a column for the New York Times on the continuously changing nature of human language.

“Language will become more technologically mediated.

The ever-expanding power and flexibility of our personal gadgets, combined with the computing prowess of servers we connect to in “the cloud,” makes it a dead certainty that tech will rule the language of even the most reluctant neo-Luddite.”

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