Barbarians In Da Howes (Part 2)

I fancy there's something lovely happening with our language, and it seems to have to do, naturally enough, with the tasks to which we put it.

Recently, two different learners referenced their texting in relation to their class work. One asked, "Can I do math tonight? I'm really tired of reading and writing. It seems like all I do all day is text on this thing." The other commented, "I tried to put commas in when I text, but I don't think there's a way to do it."

That reminded me of Johanna Stirling's stuff. Johanna is author of The Spelling Blog and a book she is taking 4-ever to publish - a book I entirely intend to read.

I ♥ Johanna because she embraces the wacky spellings and evolutions of English, saying things like "I wish I could live forever to see what will happen to the language!"

It also reminded me of the grammar and semantics of the brief, fiercely communicative writing I see online daily. This stuff intrigues me. Look at these two unremarkable streams of multi-voiced conversations from a text & video sharing site:

1:39 TWAV: tooo much chatttttt
1:39 WHiiTEGiiRl7: sorry, on the fone.
1:39 St33z3R: izz she gonaa say sumn
1:40 WeezyBRA: yea im here
1:40 kailyalix: ur black?
1:40 WeezyBRA: lol..i knew what u meant..but yea
1:40 jakie1818-1: thanks 4 the link bri i c who cares now!!\
1:40 bri_loves_cody: your welcom
1:40 jakie1818-1: haha
1:41 cody_lover_13-1: ha rlly !
1:41 cody_lover_13-1: i tried 4eva 1:42 thedrake08: where r u at?
1:42 techmatt2007: ithard while your carrying an open laptop, don't trip either jesus
1:42 hamada_88: iphone ya good one
1:43 techmatt2007: its*
1:43 LaraStagljar: i cants see you but i can hear you
1:43 ilovejb4life-1: u there>
1:44 ilovejb4life-1: im gonna kick you out
1:44 brooklynwarrior-1: yo im on the phone h/o
1:44 ilovejb4life-1: hurry up
1:45 ilovejb4life-1: brb
1:45 ilovejb4life-1: stay here,
1:46 fatal504: COME BACK
1:46 djbaudel: hi everybody

9:04 sccali21: exactly
9:04 ramy2020: hey
9:04 sccali21: hmm
9:05 ohhbabyy: who are you talking to????
9:05 sccali21: a game?
9:05 bacidolce: haters make u famous
9:05 KoenSOD_NL: its late
9:05 Lumpy777: it's early
9:05 ramy2020: Issued stock
9:06 sccali21: ur talkin to me?
9:06 ramy2020: Issued stock
9:06 sccali21: wat a game
9:07 emilybieber5: im live in ontario
9:07 jnk123ilybaybee: im from chicago illinois , but i moved ta ohio
9:08 jnk123ilybaybee: i might move bak !
9:08 KoenSOD_NL-1: what was the question agian?
9:09 KoenSOD_NL: i need to sleep
9:09 osu_dude21: you're english is actually pretty good! I thought you were in the USA!
9:09 osu_dude21: Say something cool in Norweigen
9:10 sccali21: wtf
The sheer pace, the near frantic spilling of words and meanings is interesting. So is the desire to edit using the apparently now standard * device. Watch user techmatt2007 slip in a correction:

1:42 techmatt2007: ithard while your carrying an open laptop, don't trip either jesus
1:42 hamada_88: iphone ya good one
1:43 techmatt2007: its*

Too, you can see the stylizing - I want to say accessorizing - in "izz she gonaa say sumn" and the way the extra letters in "tooo much chatttttt" reinforce the message. You can't say the writers don't care about being understood, or that they don't think about how they write and spell. These folks command their language.

You also can't say they fail to communicate, though confusion sometimes abounds when conversations overlap ("who are you talking to????" "what was the question agian?" "ur black?"). There are ordinary mistakes. This ("what was the question agian?") looks like a simple typo. But this ("thanks 4 the link bri i c who cares now!!\") looks like spelling as dance.

Sometimes you can almost see the conventions emerging. I think I talked before about the use of kno for know - the silent w being sensibly dropped, but then the silent k being kept on in order to distinguish it from no. Tell me that's not smart word use.

They also tend to keep the trailing e when re-spelling phone as fone ("sorry, on the fone") showing clear intent to retain the final e makes a long-vowel rule. (Notice also the traditional comma use.)

But conventions birth hard, and another feature of this newfangled approach to English is them kids' determination to speak and spell freely. On the comment thread to a Lady Gaga video, one poster complained about another's use of capitals, which won the retort:

uqhh look if i wanna type liKE? tHiS im qoinq to type like that. so qo on and judqe someone else's writinq. conversation is over.

You go, girl! Minds me of that Luba anthem circa 1982

Learn to convert
Learn to assert
Learn to abandon
Ideologies and
Disciplines at random

Not that we're ready for such freedom.

Here's a comment complaint, from one geek to another, that showed up in the comment thread of a Techcrunch (a computer/technology news site) story last fall:

I believe you wrote the word "speeded" (well, it's not really a word in English) which, although embarrassing to ever see written, would almost certainly have been caught if you had run this new functionality in MS Word called "Spell Check."

Also, Microsoft is the name of the *company* you are referring to, not the companies, and so you should say Microsoft is not Microsoft are. Again, Word should probably underline that in green for you this time, which signifies your lack of basic grammar to compliment you fantastic vernacular. I'm using the word fantastic to mean "make believe" not "good" in this case.

Actually, before you post to the internet, get someone who passed middle school English class to proof read your witting please. Its riddle with errors and makes my eyes bleed to read it.

What to say? What to say about bad spelling and ineffective grammar amidst a complaint about bad spelling and improper grammar? I point out that these are geeks because the geeks are supposed to be relatively well educated - even when self educated - and attracted to innovation and out-of-the-box thinking.

Sadly, not so.

These are comments threaded on a recent Techcrunch post about problems with Apple's new iPad:

nick - April 5th, 2010 at 4:37 am UTC
All that magic in the iPad might be affecting his judgement or it just might be fanboi Syndrome.

BillyH - April 5th, 2010 at 5:38 am UTC
Wow you used magic again Nick, but your using it in a sarcastic way like its not really magic, is that how you meant it?, very clever if you did

mk - April 5th, 2010 at 10:46 am UTC
Billy, Hill: If “your” going to flame people, learn the difference between “you’re” and possessive “your”

BillyH - April 6th, 2010 at 3:43 am UTC
Yo, teach!

Brian Wolfe - April 6th, 2010 at 7:45 am UTC
Sorry BillyH, but he’s right. To people with an actual education, the difference between “your” and “you’re” is so glaring that using the wrong one will brand you as an idiot or a child. I’m going with idiot for you, based on the question mark followed by a comma. As far as I know, there is no situation in the English language that allows for that. You should watch your capitalization.

Also, mk, the “If” should not be capitalized. Additionally, you need a period at the end of the sentence. BillyH made the same mistake, which makes you look like a complete ass for correcting one error and missing another. If you’re going to berate people for grammatical errors, you really should take pains to make sure your comment is flawless.

You are both idiots.

JeffShirl - April 6th, 2010 at 5:34 pm UTC
Let me be the first to nominate Brian for Mr. Congeniality … And if I spelled that wrong you can blough me.

Spelling and grammar nazi's on comment threads are a relatively common feature; especially in non-random, large groups. (It's usually the same 150 or so people who post semi-daily on Techcrunch.) They come off as funny or silly or annoying or just mean-spirited, depending on the context and comment. But, as far as I can tell, they're rarely useful.

What's more useful is the identification of nonsense. Here's another comment on a Techcrunch article about search engines:

Not until a new era of self-thinking, computational reasoning machines arises will we be able to consolidate individual life datasets into humanly understandable terms.

The reasoning machines will serve as our legal advisers, as the media’s “playground politics” unmasking aides, and as our individual free-choice corroborators.

It is until that time comes, however, that our post-modern society will be limited by the time and effort of our own human investigative capacity to uncover the flaws of our own nature.

The semantic web will rise, the computational reasoning era will build its empire as an infrastructure within our own, and the guilt of our own indiscretions will ultimately leave us with a raw humility for what we’ve become.

The next commenter asked, fairly, "Is any of that English?"

It isn't enough to be correctly spelled and punctuated. Youse gotta make sense.

By the way, that's also true of libratory pop tunes. In 1982, Luba sang:

Lay down the laws
Lay down the rules
Lay down commandments
Lift the sanctions
That restricts this woman's madness

Now, the context suggests she meant "set aside laws, rules, etc." Sadly, the expression "lay down the laws" commonly means "enforce the laws" - the opposite of her intention. Maybe she could have benefited from an editor?

Here's a similar goof from that same Techcrunch thread:

Ray - April 5th, 2010 at 9:24 am UTC
If the WiFi isn’t working on WiFI models, it won’t be a success. People will be returning them like hotcakes! I’m waiting for my WiFi/3G to come “Late April.” It’s there’s any issue with the WiFi reception, it’s getting returned to the store.

Jeff - April 6th, 2010 at 8:08 am UTC
I don’t think people return hotcakes.

LOL. I know I've never returned a hotcake. But who knows.... :)

Anyway, I guess I see my role, as a literacy facilitator, to be someone who can offer friendly guidance. I want to help learners say what they intend to say, without invoking too many rules or stifling creativity. I'm not gonna drill people on spelling or wave my arms over a split infinitive - or any other kind of infinitive. I've no particular interest in participle prepositions (or, none that I know of) and I'm unlikely to impose such arcane language on others. Frankly, I find the fact that here can be an adverb slightly disturbing.

Structured grammar can be lovely - can have an aesthetic value - and it can help us convey things clearly. But that's the end of it. The rules have no intrinsic value, and the importance of traditional spellings and grammars are easy to exaggerate.

So, yeah. You can do math tonight. When you're ready to read and write differently, let me know. (She did, and I'm bringing a copy of Twilight for her to borrow.) And don't sweat the commas. If you notice where you'd like to put one while texting, then that's half the battle.

P.s., here's Luba.... :)

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