We’re All Bilingual Now

Table of Egypt HieroglyphsIn his most recent Good Morning Geek post called Internet-Speak, Max Swisher discusses “…a new problem for modern people: We must all be bilingual and use the appropriate language depending on context. Teens in school must know how to talk online in lolspeak and the next day write a paper in diverse, formal English.”

Max introduces us to “Arrow,” a mythical person from the city of Hindrawyt in Indochinalumbilan. Arrow is a well-studied teenager, who has learned classic English prior to coming to the U.S. Once here, Arrow is faced with a new language. Max calls it “lolspeak” and we also know it as internet-speak.

Max brings up a number of points that got me thinking.

Even those of us who speak only English are now bilingual, at least in our reading and writing. Almost everyone I know texts or uses some type of instant messenger application. We all know how impossible it is to type on a cellphone – particularly the latest models that do not have articulated keyboards. The fact that we are all using shortcuts when it comes to spelling and grammar is no surprise. Why write, “See you later” when you can write C U? or “talk to you later” instead of TTYL? or “Gosh that was hilariously funny” instead of LOL? It simply takes too much time, effort, and repetitively strained thumbs to communicate.

Another point Max brings up is that we use emoticons to indicate how we feel. It’s interesting that we’ve gone back to graphic symbolism (think hieroglyphics) to represent feelings. Even on devices that don’t have graphic capabilities, we use:

  • : )  for happy
  • : ( for sad
  • : D for very happy
  • : P for sticking your tongue out
  • <3 for I love you

And the list goes on and on (and on). How creative we are! Even before computers, when we were typing letters to people, I don’t recall ever typing :) to indicate that I was “just joking” about something. So much of our communication is without audio now, without intonation, that we use symbols for emotion in emails all the time.

We have also created an entirely new set of terminology that didn’t exist before. We Google things. According to Max “tumbling” is an activity that has nothing to do with gymnastics. We Facebook each other. LOLZ means something more than just laugh out loud (don’t ask me, I honestly don’t know what it means. I just see it and use it from time to time). And, as Max says, the dictionaries are perpetually catching up. There really are no stated rules to lolspeak. We are all just making it up as we go along. I wonder how often a new word or spelling or acronym is invented these days.

Not only do we need to know the new words, new emoticons, new acronyms, and new grammar, we also need to know when it is appropriate to use our new language. It is not appropriate to use lolspeak on a high school English paper. It is not appropriate to use it on a legal document. Sometimes, it is not appropriate to use in business. Yet, other times, it is important to use in business. When I’m casual and friendly with customers, I will use emoticons in my emails. Though, I won’t shorten “thanks very much” to TTFN.

We are all bilingual now. We read and write in English and lolspeak. We conjugate and hyphenate appropriately. We make it up as we go along. As languages go, ours is developing and changing in often dramatic and wonderful ways. We wouldn’t want to live with a stagnant language – that would mean our civilization is stagnating, too.

So, now I want Facebook to give me the option of lolspeak when I list my known languages in my profile. I want to Facebook that. LOL.

 

 

Val Swisher

Val Swisher is the CEO of Content Rules. She is a well-known expert in global content strategy, content development, and terminology management. Using her 20 years of experience, Val helps companies solve complex content problems by analyzing their content and how it is created.

When not blogging, Val can be found sitting behind her sewing machine working on her latest quilt. She also makes a mean hummus.
 

 

 

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