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Professor Philipp Angermeyer: Kids + txting rn’t killing the language

Professor Philipp Angermeyer: Kids + txting rn’t killing the language

The idea that our dependence on technology is ruining the English language is not a new one, wrote The Globe and Mail Aug. 11:

Members of the media, linguists and grammar gurus are on both sides, pushing and pulling over the implications associated with texting, blogging and e-mailing. Many who think language is being flushed down the toilet put the blame squarely on younger generations. Is this criticism accurate or even relevant?

“In some ways, it’s a reaction to change and a reluctance to accept change, but to some extent it’s also a fictitious topic that doesn’t have any merit,” says Philipp Angermeyer, a linguistics professor in York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. Many experts feel the same way.

. . .

So, considering how little research there is to back up the claim that technology is destroying language, why does this hell-in-a-handbasket opinion persist? Prof. Zwicky talks about the “adolescent illusion,” where adults pay selective attention to the language and writing of adolescents, and see the mistakes they make as the source of this “trend.” In fact, adults are responsible for as much as 80 to 90 per cent of text messaging, so if it’s hurting the language, why should young people be held responsible?

“To some extent, it has to do with attitudes toward people,” says Prof. Angermeyer. “The columnist wouldn’t write this if they didn’t also think there was something else wrong with the people they speak about.” These types of criticisms, he explains, are considered politically acceptable complaints meant to be aimed at certain groups of people, motivated by some other dislike.

This intergenerational tension goes both ways. A 2009 Conference Board of Canada survey of more than 900 Gen X, Gen Y and baby boomer respondents revealed that each generation marked the other two with unfair stereotypes. Boomers were considered less accepting of diversity and change and uncomfortable with technology. Gen Xers were cynical and independent. Gen Yers were lazy and difficult to manage. While each generation viewed the other two negatively, most participants were alike in many ways, with similar personality types, workplace motivations and social behaviours. While we all may come from different social groups, our language dialects and writing styles are very similar, and are not about to change any time soon.

It all boils down to what is appropriate in what context. “If I write a text message, my text might be inappropriately long and full of punctuation,” says Prof. Angermeyer.

“Ultimately, from a theoretical perspective, the only distinction you can really make is between native speakers [of a dialect] and non-native speakers. Every native speaker is a competent language speaker, and depending on what you are exposed to and what environments you use the language in, you acquire different skills.”

The complete article is available on

Republished courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.