Friday, 16 November 2007

Examples of written communication, and how it adapts to survive

Written communication is so prevalent these days you absorb thousands of words every day. But how has it evolved with the development of technology, and does it still have a place in the modern world?

Since Gutenberg's bible in 1450 revolutionised the reproduction of the written word, standards of grammar and letterform have decreased and increased. Words have become easier to read in some ways, and more difficult to read in others.

As printing developed, the letterforms and typefaces moved slowly away from the emulation of handwriting and into a style of their own. Serifs came and went, and came back again. Sans-serif fonts were developed. And then came the advent of the Biro, the Internet and mobile phones.

The biro has a lot to answer for. It was created by a newspaper editor in the 1940s as an alternative to his fountain pen which often tore up his notepaper and took a while to dry. László Bíró created the most popular pen in the world, the Biro, and handwriting standards plummetted. Because people had to make less effort writing, they took less care over it. Handwriting either became incredibly basic or very scruffy, with little standardisation. But thankfully the printed word was still around to ground the letterforms.

The internet has warped and twisted communication more than many would have thought possible - so much so that there is a entire argot of slang called 1337 (or Leet). Leetspeak originated on the internet forums of the 1980s where a 'leet' (or e-lite) user would be respected for his knowledge, and it was handy in getting round word filters. Nowadays, Leet can be seen all over the internet, and is used by nearly everyone in some form or other. Smilies and expresions such as 'LOL' (laugh out loud) are especially popular. Additionally, character substitution often occurs - for example - "l33t sP33k is U8er keWl 4nD eA5y wehn u 7hink 1t tHr0uGh."

Leet has migrated and evolved onto mobile phones, where the constraints of a very basic text input method, a small screen and a character limit forced texters to innovate. Common expressions include 'C U l8r' (for 'See you later').

It is interesting to consider whether these evolutions of language have any affect on formal writing. Certainly they do, but does formal writing have anything to fear? Obviously it would not be appropriate to write in l337-speak in an essay, but what's wrong with time-saving?

This brings me on to George Orwell's 1949 novel, 1984. Besides being an incredible work of dystopian literature, Orwell raises some relevant points. For example, the administration of the book's setting, Oceania, have created a language called 'Newspeak' which basically involves ripping words apart to increase efficiency. Is this a bad thing? Is the decrease in variety acceptable at the increase of speed and fluency?

1 comment:

pwilson said...

could you create a newspeak for the twentyfirst century? or take a range of examples from popular culture and translate those into newspeak?