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HOLLENBECK: Language in peril: Preserving it may be harder than you think

June 7, 2012

As a lifelong grammarian, I frequently shudder at what has happened to ordinary conversation.
I grew up around two cousins and an aunt who constantly corrected any of my deviations from proper speech.
Instead of resenting this, I actually appreciated it. Their well-meaning corrections helped me to speak and write correctly most of the time.
In addition to the cousins and Auntie, there was my mother who made certain I didn't drift into what she referred to as the "common" tongue. There were certain words, phrases, etc., that were verboten, and I still consider them as such. I won't list them because writing them would be even worse than saying them, but many who are close to me know that some particular forms of gutter talk raise my dander. Crude language simply wasn't permitted in our family. I accepted this as the way life should be and attempted to pass it on.
Off-color talk aside, another kind of language deterioration has made its way into society and it's truly taken over with the generations that have followed mine.
This has occurred through email, social networking and more recently through text messages.
A lot of people don't bother to clean up their sentences in emails. Whatever keys their fingers strike — typos, misspelled words, etc. — is what is sent out to whomever is to receive it around the world.
In spite of its being intended for just one recipient, or perhaps more in a group, I still try in an email — out of habit perhaps — to make real sentences that won't come back to haunt me. Sometimes with the speed of the thing, I may go astray, but it's not intentional.
Texting, of course, has practically killed the King's English. I don't do this, because basically I'm a technological idiot. Thus far, I can open a text; I just don't know how to send one.
As for social networking, I'm out in the cold. It's fine for those who choose to do it; I just haven't counted myself among the chosen yet.
All of this prattle is leading up to a point. Apparently others also have taken note of the language erosion thing and that's why Thursday was declared as National Speak in Complete Sentences Day.
I think that's a great observance. The main problem with it was that few people knew anything about it, so if they had wanted to convert to real talk, there was nothing to inspire them.
According to announcements tied to the observance, students are having trouble reading and writing because most of their communication is through shorthand notes or texting.
And this is surprising?
Some of the text examples that were listed on the web site were enlightening. One stated: "We r 4eva g8ful 4 ur support."
That's pathetic. How lazy can you get?
But the special day was at least intended to bring some respect back to proper writing and speaking by encouraging everyone to use complete sentences — even when social networking. Regardless of what venue it's in, the value of a good sentence never can be overrated.
The web site noted that traditionalists — count me in the group — may argue that Speak in Complete Sentences Day should be extended to every day of the year while a younger, techie generation embraces and accepts linguistic changes. (I'd call it linguistic bastardization, but there are those who would object to the term.)
Parents would be wise to check out some of the abbreviations being used. It might prove eye-opening.
I'm so uninformed in this area that I had to ask a co-worker what a three-letter texting acronym meant. I can't include it here because it would be violating the Little Parnell rule never to use crude language; however, it's apparently considered OK among the younger set. They say it, they write it, they text it. And I abhor it.
The advice from the writer on the web site was to "let someone you know who thinks it's OK to use OMG and WT— (third letter I can't write, much less say) — in spoken conversation that it's not OK in that form, nor is it cool in a text.
Language can be beautiful. Newspapers and books and plays and libraries and theaters exist because of that beauty. It should be saved at all costs while there's still time.
Just call me an old fuddy-duddy and proud of it.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.
lyndahol@yahoo.com

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