Should it be Linguistic “Loss” or “Change?”

Maren and I had this conversation on last year’s Cyber Census tour, when she noticed that I did not make the habit of capitalizing specific words or utilize apostrophes. The topic came back today when Maren noticed in one of my emails to our Participant Forum that I used “Weve” instead of “We’ve”. Our conversation went a bit like this:
“The meaning hasn’t changed there is no ‘weve’ in the english language that you could have mistaken it for!”
“There’s no ‘weve’ period!”

Will I betray my years of schooling and degree by sacrificing the occasional apostrophe for the sake of speed, time, and convenience? Are Boomers judging Zoomers, and vice-versa, in their manners of communication?

What I did not recognize at the time is that to most Boomers (many born and raised in pre-internet times), there is a strong ‘metamessage’ or underlying idea being communicated through grammar which is beyond the meaning of the sentence itself. Grammar is a marker of intelligence, respect, courtesy, understanding, formality, class, etc. If it looks like you didn’t have time to write the message properly, what does that say for your values? The answer is vastly different between Boomers and Zoomers.

Perhaps the lament of linguistic loss has less to do with the language itself, and more for the values that grammar embodies. I think the fear amongst cultural defenders is that this “age of convenience” will result in a loss in the dynamics of communication. Capitalizations, apostrophes, and other rules not only help communicate the words which are written, but also what is left unwritten, such as ones intellect, understanding, respect, and tact. Pre-Internet, when these grammatical rules were broken, a different “metamessage” was communicated. For “Zoomers”, it seems as though there is no metamessage. this Message-behind-the-message about their intellect and understanding has nothing to do with the message itself. For me, my use of “weve” instead of “we’ve” makes no difference to me or many of my peers because its the same message. However, for Boomers, that metamessage is still very much alive. (The irony here, however, is that the capitalization of Internet may also be percieved as “old fashioned” and may date or age the speaker. So, while proper English may dictate that we write the word as “Internet”, those who actively use the Internet rarely emphasize the term with capitalization. I only do so to avoid conflict.)
When a language changes, one could also look to see if cultural values are changing. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that culture influences language, and vice-versa. If we apply this hypothesis to the current linguistic changes facing us today, then the lack of capitalization, apostrophes, and even sentence structure may be evidence of a paradigm shift. The respect which is typically communicated in capitalizing oneself or a name may be communicated instead in the message itself, or the message’s mode of delivery. If language slowly discontinues its use of capitalizations and apostrophes (entertain the idea for me here), will we lose the social and cultural rules that went along with grammar, or will they be manifested in a different way?

Ultimately, the words “loss” and “change” may be used interchangeably, but hold significant differences in definition and describe two different attitudes. Which one do we use in describing this trend?
(What would Marshall McLuhan say?)


3 Responses to “Should it be Linguistic “Loss” or “Change?””

  1. […] SREELANCER put an intriguing blog post on Should it be Linguistic "Loss" or "Change?"Here’s a quick excerptMaren and I had this conversation on last year’s Cyber Census tour, when she noticed that I did not make the habit of capitalizing specific words […]

  2. Trevor R. Says:

    Ultimately… I understand your argument for the “weve” vs. “we’ve” in that they both have the same aural impact when spoken by a native English speaker who understands the rules of shortening a phrase to a single syllable word already. I find it interesting that for centuries, all language was primarily auditory, and the written language then had to find a way to fit itself around it, developing rules and formatting to help describe “what’s going on” in a particular thought/sentence. And now… the “Zoomers” tend to blend the phonetic and written languages into a jargon where context is king. It’s almost cyclical in a sense in that first there were no written rules, then the written language got its structure, and now that structure is being challenged for the sake of speed and reliance on context.

    The question becomes, though, as far as English language adoption or learning… what do you teach? Do you simply say “use the word ‘weve’ to communicate possession by the speaker (and the group to which they belong)” Or teach the conjugation the verb “to have” into it’s long forms (I have, you have, we have, etc.), followed by an explanation of the apostrophe (or in this case the subjective omission of various letters with no symbol to identify that you have done as such)?

    And who gets to choose what omissions are made? (Obviously it’s a cultural learned behavior, and will move forward as such) But does it simply boil down to a trial and error, seeing what people understand, and then continually reinforcing and sharing?

    Being a math/science kind of guy… I appreciate rules as a foundation on which to build and then to go back and test (to either strengthen, or if they can’t stand up to scrutiny, destroy).


    Speaking of apostrophes… what about the word “o’clock”? Sure, you could eliminate the apostrophe… but why not the word altogether, leaving only the am/pm signifier. Who the hell says “of the clock” anymore? 😉

  3. I hate losing the beauty of the written word. Although it bespeaks my age, this is a non issue. So many things are done for “convenience”. Are we so lazy that it extends to the words we write?

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