In the novel 1984, by George Orwell, the totalitarian government of Oceania seeks to control every aspect of its citizens’ lives. One way they strive to accomplish this is by completely doing away with standard English (Oldspeak), converting it into a similar but more controlled language (Newspeak.) Newspeak eliminates some words altogether and strips other words of superfluous meaning. In the novel, government workers excitedly believe Newspeak will completely take over Oldspeak by the year 2050, rendering all works of literature written in Oldspeak, of course, completely unintelligible.
I was watching The Daily Show one evening (an immensely popular satirical news show here in the States- and sadly the main source of news for the vast majority of young to middle-aged Americans), and chuckling over Jon Stewart’s pointed criticism of a certain female politician’s rampant tweets. Today’s primary modes of communication, namely texting, tweeting, and Facebooking, appear pretty silly when compared to the great rhetoric of America’s forefathers, to Shakespeare’s sonnets, or to Dickens’ prose. Stewart suggests what the Gettysburg Address might have looked like if it had been tweeted:
HONEST_ABE: 4 scor & 7 yrs ago: nu nation, all men=!
Now civil war :(. But! Not die in vain. Gr8 task b4 us: Gvt of- by4-ppl not perish frm earth!
A 2011 Shakespeare wannabe? (A “sonnet” From Writing.com):
I no it is 2 late 4 me
2 sho my is tru
my trajik end U will not C
so I rite ths text 2 u
I tride 2 rite a real pome
but found I cud not spel
we cant hook up wen Im in my tome
so pls read this wen Im in hel
Pls my crush dont lol
& promiss 2 B sweet
UR so cool so hot so proud
U even talk in l33t
BRB I got to go
& jump in 2 the C B lo
Newspeak anyone? (Of course, today’s language, vastly abbreviated and supplemented with emoticons, is not so much a result of government control as it is a result of the desire for efficiency and, perhaps, for fitting in?)
I wonder if the world is headed more toward Idiocracy than Oceania- a scenario Orwell couldn’t even dream up. Newspapers (the few that are left), once written at a 12th grade level, are now written at a 6th grade level.
Is the English language diminishing- or just changing?
And what does that mean for writers?