Monday, July 2, 2007

Grammar sez reedzis

The last great linguistic change in the English language occurred some 400 years ago in the riotous blossoming of its modern form. The English of Shakespeare is about as old a version of the language that people today can understand, and in his century (the 16th) some 10,000 to 12,000 new words were coined, many of them by the bard himself.

I would suggest that the networked culture has propelled us into another such linguistic blossoming. A huge new lexicon has been created, such that people today could speak whole paragraphs that would be scarcely comprehensible to someone who died as few as 50 years ago. It's difficult for modern dictionary editors to keep up with the vast numbers of terms originating from computer terminology which have become standardized, such as download, reboot, google, text (as a verb), and the whole messaging language of acronyms such as brb, omg, wtf, imo, lol (and hundreds more).

All this is by way of introduction to the fact that I have just discovered the term "lolcat". This very specifically refers to published photos of cats with humorous captions in non-standard English. (I direct you to for about a kazillion examples.)

Now, as a cat lover, these amuse me simply in themselves, as in the following:

But I also find the non-standard English use interesting from a linguistic point of view.

I can imagine that many people (especially over a certain age) would look at this in horror. Bastardization of the Queens' English! Dumbing down! We're all going to die because no one will be able to spell anymore! You might even think that Grammar Moses would likely be one of those people, especially given the caption on my picture at right.

But you'd be wrong, because here's where the pure linguist in Grammar surfaces. I happen to think it's kind of cool. Even when I consider the extremely unlikely event that somehow this sort of funny caption would lead to everyone speaking this way, I can't get upset. So what if we did? I don't think anyone can point to a civilization that crumbled because its language evolved in a direction some people considered silly. (If anyone could point me to such a situation, I'm sure it would be my friend Fiona T!)

So calmz down, peeps. Tzokay. We be fine NEways.

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