Most of us have those days – those days when you fear for the future of humankind.  If you are a defender of proper grammar and spelling, and if those days seem to be coming fairly often, you are not alone.  Journalists and teachers the world over agree with you: technology is destroying the English language.

Communication technology breeds different usage of the existing language; some even claim that “texting and ‘netspeak’ are effectively different languages” (Humphrys).  Included in this new language are major groups of lexical shortenings such as acronyms, abbreviations, and contractions (Quan-Haase).  It is these shortenings, in addition to use of sentence fragments, that concern people.  

Whether or not the adaptation of English to instant messaging and texting really constitutes a different language, it is ubiquitous and still growing.  60% of teenagers under age 17 instant message when online (Lee), and the use of such technology can only continue to grow as today’s teenagers turn into tomorrow’s adults.

Reportedly, “netspeak” is showing up in schoolwork and other formal writing.  Middle- and high-school teachers (and students) report usage of “u” for “you,” “2” for “to” (or “too,” or “two”), and other decipherable but bothersome mistakes: “shortened words, improper capitalization and punctuation, and characters like &, $, and @” (Lee).  A girl in Scotland famously wrote an entire essay in lingo indecipherable even to the Internet-savvy: “’My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2 go 2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :-@ kds FTF. ILNY, its gr8.’” (Ward).  Go to the end of this article for more and for the translation.

Teachers blame technology.  What’s more, so do the students; one sixteen-year-old said that “her ability to separate formal and informal English declined the more she used instant messages” (Lee).  It seems that today’s children are failing to learn the same language rules that are so familiar to those of us who diagrammed countless sentences with straightedges.  (If you need to brush up on your skills, check out this diagramming guide.)

Complaints about the new language of swift communication are not limited to concerns about clear and understandable communication.  Many fear the destruction of language’s charm and diversity.  “It is the relentless onward march of the texters,” writes Humphrys, “the… vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago.  They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary.  And they must be stopped.”

Humphrys is a full-fledged journalist; but his opinions are not limited to the older generation.  A student at the University of Chicago blames the overly efficient modern world for the destruction of English, which he believes is “a frail creature on the verge of extinction” (Hogan).  “The efficiency of AOL-speak,” he claims, “not only erodes relationships by dumbing down how people talk to one another but it also degrades the English language itself.”  His full prediction of doomsday can be found here

Understandably, adults and grammar-conscious teens are worried.  When, thanks to constant online activity, one has seen there/their/they’re misused so many times that even correct usages start to look mistaken – well, then something must be wrong.  The technology that spreads such errors is the obvious and easy target.