Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Rise and Fall of the English Language

When I was young I studied French for many years. This scholarship brought benefits later in life when I lived and worked in Haiti. Of course there was also Creole spoken there in Mariani, Delmas, and Ossanite but it was somewhat predictable. While learning French I was taught about the efforts of the Académie Française. This institution attempts to protect the French language from the pollution of other languages. I hardly imagined that the English language would require any such draconian measures.

Now I seriously wonder if I will be able to communicate with citizens of the United States ten years from now. First, there is the threat of teen jargon removing the basic structure of the language. ST now means silent treatment, not an abbreviation for state. Def means definitely, pos means possibility, the def pos of English vanishing all together seems all too real or maybe unreal. It was all covered in gory detail by New York Times writer Ashley Parker recently substituting for William Safire. But we all know teenspeak eventually fades away like Bob Denver's beatnik dialog on Dobie Gillis or perhaps old hyperlinks.

Or does it? I see people everywhere text messaging on cell phones with BTW and LOL all over the tiny screen. All because By The Way and Laughing Out Loud involve far too many thumbstokes. I could go on for ten pages describing the language of phone text messaging. If you know someone under 30 just ask them to explain it to you.

Today I googled a blog and found grown adults firing away in the latest acronym-speak. AFAIK means As Far As I Know. IANACN indicates that I Am Not A Computer Nerd. Untrue in my case so I guess I do not need to learn that one. IANAL tells readers I Am Not A Lawyer or perhaps something far more rude. IANAMD says I never went to medical school. It all seems to have started with a doctor announcing IALAC or I am lovable and capable.

All this slang left me wondering if I was better off in Haiti with only French and Creole vocabulary to master. Just before I clicked the Purchase Tickets button on my favorite travel site I discovered the Urban Dictionary.

Funny or foul, relevant or rather esoteric, this site is the Wikipedia of new words and phrases. The Urban Dictionary seems to accept submissions from many people far removed from Daniel Webster and Benjamin Franklin but it does reflect the times. It may not prevent me from going back to Port au Prince one day soon but at least I will be able to understand the conversations while waiting to go through security at the airport.|;-)

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