Language Devolution: How Will It Affect Our Thinking?

Computer programers pay attention to detail and need to know the language and syntax of the program, which takes time to learn. You and I probably don’t know how to do it because we don’t want to take the time or feel we don’t have the ability, which is why we buy computer programs and games that others have made. But we do get annoyed when the programs are “buggy,” don’t we?

Artists and musicians have their set of rules, and know how to use them and when to break them. We laypeople may not have their skills, knowledge, or talent, but we do recognize when something is “off” versus when something was done deliberately to create a visual or sound effect.

Spelling, grammar, punctuation, and syntax in the English language (and, of course, other languages) are learned. No one expects immediate, intuitive knowledge. Just as you would spend time learning not only to speak but to write another language, so it takes time to learn the conventions of our own language.

If you write, especially for public domains such as the web and printed materials, you have one of two options: learn it yourself or have someone knowledgeable go over your work. In the past, doctors, business people, professors, and the like, had secretaries type out their reports. In the process, their writing was proofread and the result was an error-free document of professional calibre. Many of these secretaries were not only meticulous but had great command of the English language. This was a good thing, and was heavily relied upon in those days because who would trust an expert whose writing was riddled with negligence? Think about it.

Lack of structure in writing–confusing homonyms and plurals/possession, no defining marks such as apostrophes for contractions or periods for ends of sentences, confusing the functions of periods, commas, semi-colons, and colons–is not language evolution, but de-evolution, which is degradation. Why? Because distinctions and clarity are being lost. What we don’t discern in language, we start to not discern in our thoughts. Language directs the clarity of our thinking. Incorrect usage and inconsistency create highly detrimental confusion of what’s what anymore, especially in children. We may still know that the person who wrote “Your welcome,” “your awesome,” or “your going to like this,” meant to write “you’re”–but the next generation will start to lose this level of understanding.

We have an innate sense for parts of speech, even if we can’t academically take apart and label the parts of a sentence. But when what we say and hear is inconsistent with what we write or read, there is turmoil, whether we realize it or not. I liken it to hearing disharmonious notes in music, or viewing a colour scheme that just doesn’t work in art. There is discord. With writing, it’s more subtle, like a background hum that we become aware of only when it stops. We become aware of the intense relief of some stressor having been removed. At least this is the case for those of us who are still aware there is a problem. When we no longer see or hear the problem, we are no longer using that form of method to interpret our world. We are no longer discerning.

This is why today’s writing, particularly that of younger people, is a concern, and why we should care. It has implications. Already the trend has shifted in that people today are not even aware they need an editor, as opposed to in the 1980s, when writing, especially in some disciplines, may have also been poor, but the difference was the people knew it. Younger people pick up on the message that nobody cares about how one writes, so they don’t care. And on it goes.

Language has evolved for thousands of years as a tool to accurately convey our discoveries and higher abstract thoughts. The abysmal manner with which the English language is written today, people think they know what the other is saying, but in time, fine-tuned comprehension will be lost. Our cavemen ancestors understood each others’ grunts and rudimentary language (and they had the benefit of body language because they were in visual range), and eventually they got their message across, but it was probably not that complicated. Or, if it was, they didn’t have a way of communicating the abstract effectively.

Already there are sharable quotes circulating via social media that point out this danger, where lack of periods, for example, or putting them in the wrong place completely changes the thrust of the written work and results in a message that is far from the original intended meaning, or even says the opposite. As you can imagine, this can have significant consequences in work and in relationships.

Improperly used commas or missing commas create ambiguity or outright confusion, and often cause the reader to re-read the passage several times. If a reader has to do this often in the same book or document, he or she is likely to get annoyed or simply skip over it, either misunderstanding or ignoring what was said. This may be simply a nuisance in fiction, but out in the world, misinterpretation of instructions or knowledge can have grave implications.

Poor writing–or the lack of understanding of correct language conventions, grammar, syntax, etc.–is inadequate for communicating higher level thinking and conveying accurate information, which is where our world continues to head in this information, technology, and entertainment age. Language conventions–punctuation as much as the words themselves–are tools that help us accurately convey the meaning of our ingenuity. Don’t underestimate the power and effect of good writing.

Spelling “definitely” as “definately” does not change the meaning or the word type, so it’s an error that is more excusable than the two below:

“Your” is possession/ownership. “You’re” is a noun + verb: “you are.” You don’t say, “Your going to love this” or “your welcome.” My welcome? Didn’t know I had one.

“Effect” is a noun. “Affect” is a verb. The effect of language ignorance is you affect the reader’s interpretation.

Writing is still the the most widely-used form of communication for documenting our inventions and communicating our accumulated wealth of knowledge to others. The ability to make information permanent and transferable has facilitated the explosion of knowledge and technology in the modern world. We cannot afford to lose our footing by reducing the accuracy of self-expression.

We don’t all need to be perfect, but we do need to care.

See also
Writing Tips: When to Adhere to the Rules and When to Break Them, and Why Should You Care, Anyway?

Unconfusing the Confusion About Writing: Is There Room For Imperfection?

Did You Know It’s An Editor’s Job to Work With the Author, Not Against the Author?

© 2012 Eva Blaskovic. All rights reserved.

About Eva Blaskovic

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4 Responses to Language Devolution: How Will It Affect Our Thinking?

  1. Pingback: Writing Tips: When to Adhere to the Rules and When to Break Them, and Why Should You Care, Anyway? | Eva's Sirius Blog

  2. Sherie says:

    “Effect” and “affect” still perplex me. I have to really think about it and then 50% of the time, I still get it wrong! Thanks for the clarity! I think it is time to brush up on my grammar skills! Great post, Eva!

    • “Affect” and “effect” confuse a lot of people. And I have to always think twice too. But that’s what makes the difference. And, of course, there are resources to consult when one is unsure. I never write without my dictionary at hand.

  3. Pingback: The New Fad of “Your” | The Sirius Blog

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