The Last Words

By Jason Menard

As a man who values the English language, let me put this sentiment into a form that the American Literary Council will understand: I want tu beet yue with a shuhlaelee.

For those who aren’t fluent in idiot that translates to “I want to beat you with a shillelagh.

There is a movement afoot to simplify spelling and make it more phonetic, stating that it would help young children learn to read more quickly and would reduce the rate of illiteracy. And it’s a movement that’s been around, south of the border, for over 100 years.

Apparently, writing the way that I am and reading the way you are, is too much of a challenge and leaves English-speakers at a disadvantage to those speaking other languages, such as Spanish and German, whose words are spelled phonetically. According to the ALC, English has 42 sounds that are spelled in 400 different ways.

And that’s in the U.S. Can you image how they’d react to our extra u’s?

Empiric evidence is showing that the English language is being assaulted every day. Instant messaging has created its own sub-dialect of short forms and acronyms designed to save a few keystrokes – and long-term carpal tunnel syndrome – and those terms and phrases have entered into the mainstream.

Of course, the youth aren’t the originators of the acronym. Business has created its own jargon of FYI, ASAP, and QED!

Here’s a few more letters for all of you – STFU! Sorry, this is a family column.

It appears that more and more of us aren’t taking pride in the simple beauty of language. The ability to spell is rapidly going by the wayside as people rely on the bane of a writer’s existence – spell check. And grammar? Forget it – computer versions are often wrong and modern writers don’t have the background knowledge to know when to trust their electronic overlord and when to resist!

Forget people enjoying the beauty of the English language and the way it can be used to draw out emotions from plain text — the ability to string together a sequence of words into a coherent sentence is an ability that’s going the way of the dinosaur.

I’m not a stuffy grammarian – I will end my sentences with propositions from time to time if the text reads better. I appreciate the need for language to modify and change to meet the needs of the modern and future generations. However, there are lines that need to be drawn in the sand – and spelling is where that line is, uhm, spelled out.

If you dumb down your language because it’s too tough for those who speak it to write, then you are, in effect, lowering the expectations of your populace. Instead of challenging them to be better and raise the bar, you end up lowering the bar so that everyone can feel good about themselves – and it doesn’t matter if an ant couldn’t limbo under the threshold that you’ve set.

And why are we so liberal with language? Why is dumbing down the very way we express ourselves acceptable, when no one would ever consider applying a “close-enough” standard to science, medicine, or technology? The world around us continues to grow and require more knowledge, ability, and skills – so why shouldn’t the world within us, and our ability to express ourselves, follow the same path?

This is not a new battle. Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin were early advocates of simpler spelling, and they were followed by Andrew Carnegie and Theodore Roosevelt. Others continue to champion the cause of simpler spelling and perhaps now they’ve found a generation who will find their crusade more palatable.

After all, in a world where BRB, LOL, and Gr8 are commonplace terms, why should they not be included in the mainstream text? Are their inclusions any more offensive than the modern-day executive whose inter-office memo is riddled with errors? Or are they any more grating than the person who misappropriates figures of speech during a conversation?

No, but a society that limits itself through speech limits its ability to grow. Like Quebecoisjoual, this dumbed-down language restricts the capacity of speech to explore new territories – only existing in its own familiar sphere. By refusing to challenge ourselves to be better through speech, we retard our ability to improve through thought. We eliminate a tie to our history, as when the etymology of words gets broken, so too does their connection to our past.

A simplified language would only exist in the here and now, whereas a fully formed and constantly adapting language not only retains its connection to the past, but it also offers the promise of continued refinement in the future.

After all, like Elvis sang, “they’re only words, but words are all I have to steal your heart away.”

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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