Award-winning Journalist Penny Fletcher, Author, Editor & Blogger

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There's Still Time to Save Our Language Skills if We Start Now

Posted on October 15, 2018 at 10:35 AM

     I didn’t know I was raising a granddaughter from Generation Z until the other day when I happened upon the term in a television broadcast. I thought the younger generation was still called X. That’s how far behind I am. As it turns out, when I looked a little farther into it, Gen Z came after X, starting in 1995 and lasted until 2013, when “Generation Alpha” began; the one we’re in now. I guess that means we’ve run the entire alphabet and are starting over again.

   The only reason I mention this is because somewhere during the period between the typewriter and the text, we’ve lost our language. I know my granddaughter, who is now 20, was in the last class to learn cursive writing in Florida’s elementary schools and I’ve been told it’s that way in other places too. Now they teach “keyboarding” which makes sense, being that we all communicate by computers, tablets and phones, but I wonder who (when Gen Z is gone) will be able to read our Constitution and Declaration of Independence and all those other important documents our Founders created in script?

   Does that matter? I think it does. Not being able to read or duplicate documents as important as these (and many others scripted by hand) can create enormous problems for the country, and world, later.

   Today, when our “kids” are texting, it’s just an inconvenience to those of us who have to figure out that PIR means “parent in room” or “BRB” means be right back. I have to admit, even as an author and editor who loves words, when texting, I use “Lv U 2” and “TTYL” (talk to you later) myself. It saves time, and everybody seems to know what they mean.

   The problem with this is the students brought up on “keyboarding” may never use (or even understand) proper written language. Maybe won’t even want to. So, what happens to all the classics that have been with us for hundreds of years? War & Peace; Crime & Punishment; The Odyssey; the great poets and the works of Shakespeare? Can these be translated somehow into three-letter abbreviations or emojis?

   Abbreviations have been with us a long time: Take “Xmas” for example. The problem is, while they were designed to save time (or writing space) they’ve started to replace the meaning behind what someone is trying to convey. As a long-time writer and editor, I find “meaning” very important. Is there a difference between Xmas and Christmas? Of course, there is. Whether you are a Christian or not, if you speak the English language, you need to know the word “Christmas” is an “abbreviation” of Christ’s Mass, originating from the Old English word “Cristemaesse” meaning the church service dedicated to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth; called by Christians, Jesus the Christ.

   No one doubts that Christmas — and many other annual celebrations — are holidays, but how many are still taught that originally in English, the word “holiday” came from abbreviating the words “Holy Day?”

   I’m wondering how much of our “meaning” we’re losing as we replace real words with abbreviations and symbols.

   Speaking of symbols, I’ve watched as my granddaughter and her peers send some texts completely in emoticons. Somewhere in Japan, early in the 1990s, these cartoon-like figures (spelled differently there of course) were invented to accent words on computers. Emojis arrived in the U.S. shortly after that and are now found on practically all forms of texting devices. I look at the little smiley or angry faces; thumbs up and down symbols, broken hearts and other things that immediately send mind pictures to the receiver and think of cave-dwelling art. It looks like we’re going back to the days where our ancestors scratched pictographs of buffalo and bison on cave walls with a rock.

   As these forms of “abbreviation” become more and more prevalent, I wonder if the grace and power of “real words” and decades of documents, books and other important manuscripts will go the way of the drawings scratched by firelight on the walls of ancient caves?

© penny fletcher 2018


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