The Internet has made a great number of contributions to mankind, giving us a true sense of global community and an expanse of knowledge that rivals any other library ever conceived in all of human history. However, not much can be said in the way of its contributions to the vocabularies of various languages. In this era English speakers are ubiquitously replacing “you” with “u,” Romanians are replacing “ca” with “k,” Germans are replacing “liebe Grüße” with “lg,” and the Spanish “también” is being erased in favor of “tmb.” What precisely does all of this mean? Is internet slang going to mark the death of an objective standard for language?
How Language Evolves
First of all, it is important to note that language evolves organically with the passage of time. The word “selfie,” for example, did not exist for the thousands of years that English has been spoken. Of course there were not very many cases of people taking photos of themselves until quite recently in the scale of recorded history. Once this became a phenomenon, the word “selfie” came into existence as a shortcut used to describe the action in one fluid two-syllable expression. It took a while, but the Oxford English Dictionary officially included the word in its rendition of the English lexicon in the latter part of 2013.
If this sounds ridiculous to you, Shakespeare’s work was in all likelihood equally ridiculous to the gatekeepers of the English language at the time that he published his plays. He was confronted with the frigid nature of the language and made new words that satisfied the need for something more colorful and expressive. It is noted that more than 1,500 words were invented by the man in the span of his life. Examples include things we take for granted today, like “lonely,” “hurry,” “road,” “premeditated,” and “bloody.” We couldn’t imagine speaking English without these words now, yet they were invented a very long while after the language first took shape.
What About “U?”
The replacement of words with short abbreviations is something frowned upon in academic writing for obvious reasons. We want to be able to make public writings like this one as understandable as possible to as wide an array of people as possible without forcing them to guess the meaning of abbreviated words. However, interpersonal conversations do not carry the same weight. While I personally frown upon the use of “u” even in individual conversations, I do not see it as the death of language. The moment we start seeing articles on the Web from serious publications written in the same colloquial shorthand is the moment we should indeed be worried. For now that does not seem to be the case.
We are mostly seeing shorthand either in court transcripts or SMS/IM records.
Should We Be Worried at All?
The sentiment of panic is very natural in a society that is very comfortable with its way of speaking. On a personal level, I believe that language should be amended only when such a thing is useful. However, languages have always changed organically whether we liked it or not. This will probably remain the status quo indefinitely. We no longer speak Latin or Old English. Germans are subtly reducing their use of the “ß.” Romanians no longer write in Cyrillic.
Language has always been – and will always be – an agreed-upon method of communication between multiple individuals with the principle scope of understanding each other. How they choose to speak after grade school is over is beyond our influence.
What do you believe should be the criteria for new words in your language’s lexicon? Tell us more in a comment!
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