I worry over what I see as a potential impoverishment of language (for example, students thinking that it’s perfectly appropriate to use “text speak” to write a paper in. The problem with that kind of telegraphic language – it’s great for sending a quick note to someone over your phone – but it lacks adverbs and adjectives and long descriptions and….well, I admit I’m a bit of a Luddite but in my darker moments of contemplating it I wonder if maybe it’s a path back to the grunts that our ancient ancestors allegedly used (though there is now a hypothesis out there that Neanderthals sang, which I think is wonderful*). And I realize there’s the whole descriptive vs. prescriptive debate in linguistics, and that languages evolve and such….but in biological evolution, a major loss of diversity is usually seen as a negative thing, and the loss of linguistic diversity (in the sense of decline of vocabulary) does concern me. *
I like that comparison with biological evolution to make the point about loss of diversity. I often think about that but I have never been able to state it so well. Besides text-speak taking over, there are two things that bother me greatly. One is what I think of as the hijacking of words – when a relatively small group mis-uses or deliberately alters the meaning of a word or chooses just one existing meaning of a word that has more than one meaning, and insists that from now on it can only be used to mean what they want it to mean. One example is the word, “depression.” It used to be that you could say, “I’m depressed,” to mean, “Right now, at this moment I am very unhappy,” but now if you say that everyone thinks of clinical depression. I even saw one online discussion in which some people were saying that if you use the word “depression” casually you are disrespecting people who are “really depressed”. There is another, perhaps better, example I could use but I fear I would be opening a can of worms if I mentioned it.
The other thing that bothers me is words just falling out of use, people using words with similar but slightly different or less exact meanings than what they are really trying to say. I feel that we are losing subtleties of meaning and losing the ability to express ourselves effectively. I know language changes. It’s good that it changes, but we should pay attention to the way it is changing and not allow it to lose diversity and richness of meaning.
And I thought of a third thing that bugs me: people talking in catch-phrases. We all do it but many people over-do it. Going green, moving forward, at the end of the day, it is what it is, (I really, seriously hate that one.) think outside the box. We hear them all the time and it’s hard not to repeat them when they seem useful but wouldn’t it be more effective to find our own words?
I understand that not everyone can be a linguist. I understand that there are people who are “language challenged” just as there are people who are “math challenged” (and I admit I’m not as good at it as I wish I could be) but when I hear people on TV, in a position that requires (or should require) a person to be educated and articulate, using the wrong words, or less effective or exact words than they could be using, I can’t help but feel our whole culture is in decline. And what really makes me sad is that most people don’t even see this as a problem.
*I didn’t make the blockquote bigger on purpose. For some reason WordPress did that all by itself.