So I was in my composition theory course, and I commented on how pathetic it was that an author claimed technology and the increasingly globalized economy are killing the “academy” (essentially, education). I said it was a bit of a cop-out, that everyone immediately turns to technology as the destroyer of language. The professor commented on how she could see that point and another student jumped in, saying something along the lines of “Kids don’t know how to write or spell full words now because all they do is write LOL” etc. And she was a bit of a bitch about it. But I just fanned myself to cool off, and kept my mouth shut since it was almost the end of class.

But you know–it totally pissed me off. So many people think that students don’t read or cannot form full sentences without “lol” or “gonna” or whatever else. And I’m sure that’s true. But what gets me is that people are missing the bigger picture.

Many moons ago, a man was chiseling something into a stone. It looked like a line, an X, a triangle, etc. This guy was totally happy carving rock with those symbols. You know what this is? Runic. The basis of English and most other languages. But then some dudes came in and conquered Britain, and, with it, learned about writing stuff down, allowing different shapes to form more letters. Super long story short, a major change happened and Old English came to be. Later, some major changes happened and we had Middle English (think Chaucer), then Early Modern (Shakespeare) and now Modern.

So when I say, “Look at the bigger picture,” what I mean is we’re at a time where we’re going through a major language shift again. And instead of viewing it as the denigration of language, why don’t we view it as the next step? In a way, each step is a denigration of the previous step–Old English killed runes. Early Modern ruined dialectal writing. Modern killed “thee” and “thou.” I would say that having no way to differentiate between a superior (with “thee” etc.) and someone on your level (“you”) is a denigration of the language!

On the small-scale level, I completely understand the apprehension of a full-scale change in language. I’m unnerved when my students write “tuff” instead of “tough” in a paper as well. However, I think these uncomfortable feelings are happening because I genuinely feel this will be the Big One, where we enter a Post-modern form of English that is seeped in technology. It’s been happening slowly and surely for eons. Putting the words “assembly” and “line” together in the 1700s would not have had a real meaning. Compare that to now, where we have a firm semiotic understanding of what “assembly line” means. Why did this happen? After the rise of the industrial revolution and increase of factory labor, we needed to devise a word to match our surroundings. And now, with technology changing at such a rapid pace, language cannot keep up. But it has to, and it will. And we need to understand that there is not much we can do other than fall under the wave of this new language and, much like a tidal wave, it will hurt and damage everything that currently exists in its wake–but then we rebuild and change.

Posted in Legacy.


  1. “Modern” didn’t kill thou and thee … Norman-French did. Before 1066 it was clear … thou was singular and ye was plural (no class distinction or distinction made for friends and family). After the Norman nobles took over the French way of using the plural for the polite form worked its way into the language and eventually killed off the distinct singular form.

    As for “tuff”, I’m ok with ruff, tuff, and laff. Tho and thru are approved forms in the gov’t and I used them while writing term papers in college … after warning my instructors that I would do so.

    • In terms of “killing,” I’m referencing the almost entire eradication of the word in the English language. What you’re referencing, it seems, is a shift in the meaning of the words, which is not that uncommon (look at how we “verb” nouns–e.g. to cup vs. a cup) given that the terms were still used after the shift. You are certainly correct in that regard; I simply meant a different thing.

      It’s polite that you let your instructors know your plan for writing in unstandardized language (the alternative, of course, would be the instructor thinking you simply didn’t know any better), but I honestly cannot say that I would feel comfortable allowing a student to do that in formal writing assignments.

  2. I have to agree that texting is doing the English language no favours, kids now think that wiv is the way we say with and as a school teacher I find that many kids do wrtie in this texting speil.

  3. Technology is definately having an affect on the way our children are learning at the moment, it is a little pathetic that many think that the way to spell is in text language.

    • There’s a wonderful quote by Samuel Johnson that there are two types of people in the world–the one who knows information and the one who knows how to find information. Of course the debate over which is ‘better’ could go on endlessly, but I’m inclined to believe we’re losing more in the former category and gaining them in the latter. So the question for this post was not about how learning is changing as much as how the language is changing (which is a completely normal event).

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