With New Year's revelry safely behind me, some state of compos mentis regained and a renewed resolution to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances, on 3 January 2003 I turned my cellphone back on.
To be honest, I don't know why I bothered.
I've got some very eloquent, educated, erudite friends and many of them had kindly chosen to think of me and send me a text message as the clock ticked over to the new year. But with a few exceptions -- even allowing for most of them being in a New Year's State of Mind -- I was once again struck by the impact that this relatively new celluar medium is having on the English language.
HPY NU YR
HV GR8 NY CU IN IT
I can see why these truncations occur; text messaging isn't as friendly on the fingers as sitting at a computer keyboard, although the introduction of such niceties as 'predictive texting' hasn't seemed to increase the prevalence of vowels in my Inbox recently. And the plague seems to be spreading.
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and various other Internet-based forms of communication have had a similar detrimental impact on the way we write to one another on the information superhighway. When speed is of the essence, or repetition the norm, such as in the hustle and bustle of a chat room, abbreviations serve a purpose. But their use doesn't stop there, and this is the problem.
Where the rot has truly set in is when pen hits paper. Not so long ago I saw a note written by one of my nearest and dearest, left out for the flatmates to read:
GN 2 GT F&C
B BK SN
Dietary concerns aside, this note alarmed me. Are the humble vowels, the a's, e's, i's, o's, u's and sometimes y's, on the road to extinction? Will the only constants in our future be consonants?
Many would say it doesn't matter, who cares, as long as we can still communicate effectively, still get our point across. What we are beginning to lose however, is nuance. Tone. Replaced instead with a general vagueness, in which ambiguity seems to rule the roost.
I've been on the receiving end of this ambiguity, both in emails and text messages, and it has resulted in many an unnecessary heated exchange. I've learnt to take the time to insert the odd comma into my text messages, parentheses where necessary, even the odd semi-colon if appropriate. Call me anal retentive, but I've never had my loved one return from the supermarket with chops instead of chips.
I'm not about to rally for an abolition of split infinitives, I'm not calling for the death penalty for ending a sentence on a preposition and I've pretty much given up on even trying to prevent the continual bastardisation of the apostrophe (recent example from a magazine headline: "He Mean's Business"). The Americans had it right when it comes to "realize" and "capitalize" - they're not about to lose the letter Z in a hurry.
We have to do something to prevent the loss of our vowels. If nothing else, next time you text or email, remember that both these forms of communication are more or less instantaneous; you did without them completely ten years ago, so you can probably afford the extra second or two it takes to add in a couple of a's and e's. Not only are you dramatically reducing any chance of being misunderstood, you're doing your bit to keep this wonderful language of ours healthy and bursting at the seams with letters. Vowels: They're a fifth of our alphabet, they're kinda nifty, and without them my name ain't all that.
Otherwise I’ll forever be, yrs, Dmn.