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Archive for the tag “language”

Can technology enforce AND break spelling conventions?

An Trubk is a profesr @ oburln univrcity hu pend a post @ wyrd intytld Proper Spelling? Its Tyme to Let Luce!. Trubec maad sevrl points in her post. Her mane point:

Standardized spelling enables readers to understand writing, to aid communication and ensure clarity. Period. There is no additional reason, other than snobbery, for spelling rules.

She noats dat “proper spelling” is a resint convenshin:

“The phrase ‘bad speller’ rarely appears in English-language books before the 1770s,” Jack Lynch notes in his book The Lexicographer’s Dilemma. Until William Caxton used a printing press in 1475, English words were reproduced by scribes in scriptoria. There were no dictionaries (or Google) to check for “proper” spelling. Most words were spelled several different ways—there were at least 114 variants of through. (Even the spelling of something as personal as a name was inconsistent; there are six surviving instances of Shakespeare’s signature, and they’re all spelled differently.) Even after the advent of print, variant spellings were the rule.

And wial 1 kan klame dat gootinburgs printing pres helpd to enfors a cohmun set of speling konvenshuns, othr teknologikl advanses r also helping to obliteraat them:

The most widely used American word in the world, OK, was invented during the age of the telegraph because it was concise.

@ u no that new conventions have arisen due to tech:

More recent textisms signal a similarly creative, bottom-up play with language: “won” becomes “1,” “later” becomes “l8r.” After all, new technology creates new inertia for change: The apostrophe requires an additional step on an iPhone, so we send text messages using “your” (or “UR”) instead of “you’re.” And it doesn’t matter—the messagee will still understand our message.

But not everyone agrees with Anne Trubek. Wired’s copy editor, Lee Simmons, took issue with Trubek’s position:

So if you want to chat in leetspeak or use cutesy abbreviations in your texts, go crazy. You’re talking to your own tribe; they know the code, and they’re willing to indulge your affectations. And let’s be honest: A lot of that intentional misspelling, like the argot of any subculture, is meant to exclude outsiders—such as nosy parents. It’s a badge of membership in your little clique….

But having gained a yard or two for laissez-faire spelling in narrow, private circumstances, Trubek proceeds straight to the touchdown dance, proclaiming without further ado that the very idea of standardized spelling is an “outdated dogma” of the “print era.”…

Trubek observes that civilization got on for centuries without spelling rules, and she implies that it worked just fine. Sure—if you like confusion and inefficiency. To give just one example I’m painfully familiar with, the wasted man-hours that actors, directors, editors, and scholars still spend debating what the hell Shakespeare meant in this or that crucial passage would make an economist weep.

After reading Simmons, I have to say that I agree with Trubek. For one thing, as I’ve previously noted, one of the main interpretation issues with Shakespeare doesn’t have anything to do with the way that the particular word (nunnery) is spelled.

Now I am paid to adhere to particular spelling rules – for example, when we adopted a new version of Microsoft’s style standards, I have had to learn to remove the dash from the word email. However, I found that despite my decades of practice of proper spelling, it was relatively easy to write the first few paragraphs of this post and spell things any way I liked. And I suspect that most of my readers were able to understand exactly what I was saying.

At least in the United States, it’s probably a stretch to say that there is one “standard American English” and a bunch of different tribe dialects. Our society is so large and diverse that any attempt to reach common agreement on a standard American English is next to impossible. An educated person in Massachusetts is going to communicate differently than an educated person in Georgia, or an educated person in California. And style guides (including those that discourage sentences beginning with “and”) can result in wars that make the Android vs. iOS wars look like child’s play.

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The French-speaking country of England

As a citizen of the United States of America, I reside in one of many countries that traces its government back to the government of England. (England itself is now part of the United Kingdom.) And therefore, I am well aware of the importance of the year 1066 in English history. That was the year that William the Conqueror, from the French-speaking province of Normandy, invaded England.

And since that time, William the Conqueror and all of his successors ate fish and chips, drank warm beer, and made fun of people who eat snails.

Not exactly.

Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable describe how the conquest succeeded in establishing a French court.

Many of the English higher class had been killed on the field at Hastings. Those who escaped were treated as traitors, and the places of both alike were filled by William’s Norman followers. This process was repeated several times during the next four years while the Conquest was being completed.

For the next several generations, the vast majority of the noblemen and church leaders were Normans. And since they were French, the language of the country was French.

For two hundred years after the Norman Conquest, French remained the language of ordinary intercourse among the upper classes in England. At first those who spoke French were those of Norman origin, but soon through intermarriage and association with the ruling class numerous people of English extraction must have found it to their advantage to learn the new language, and before long the distinction between those who spoke French and those who spoke English was not ethnic but largely social.

Two hundred years. From our 2012 perspective that doesn’t seem like a long time, but that is about as long as the history of my own country as an independent nation. Imagine if we had fought the American Revolution and the French, instead of helping us defeat England, instead took over the country ourselves. Would I be speaking English today, or would I be speaking French just like my friends in Quebec?

In the case of England, the continued importance of the French language was emphasized by the fact that some of the English rulers also held territory in France.

Upon the accession of Henry II, English possessions in France were still further enlarged. Henry, as count of Anjou, inherited fïom his father the districts of Anjou and Maine. By his marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine he came into possession of vast estates in the south, so that when he became king of England he controlled about two-thirds of France, all the western part of the country from the English Channel to the Pyrenees.

So why aren’t the English people speaking French today? Because as time passed, the interests of people on either side of the Channel diverged. When I took an English history course in college, the professor began the course by emphatically stating that “Britain is an island.” That simple statement explains a lot of things, including the reason why England eventually became an English-speaking country again at all social levels. (The masses continued to speak English, even when their rulers did not.)

[B]y the end of the twelfth century an English jurist was able to write: “Now that the English and Normans have been dwelling together, marrying and giving in marriage, the two nations have become so mixed that it is scarcely possible today, speaking of free men, to tell who is English, who of Norman race.”… Only the events of the next century, the loss of Normandy, and the growing antagonism toward France, were necessary to complete the union, psychological as well as physical, of all the inhabitants of England.

This situation, in which a conquering people are eventually assimilated into the conquered population, is of course not unique to England.

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