Saturday, July 17, 2010

Will Web Democracy Influence Language Development?

When in doubt of how to spell a particular word or how to apply a particular phrase I know a lot of people will do a Google search in stead of turning to the dictionary. Do we always find that the majority of people apply the written language “correctly”?

All languages constantly change and evolve. In practical terms this means that what used to be a misspelling, wrongful pronunciation, or even faulty conjugation of a word may change or be formally updated as an accepted way to speak and write. Did I lose you..?

Let's consider one example, which I know constantly confuses people whose mother tongue is not English. Consider the word “dialog”. In school I was taught traditional Queens English, or what is generally called Received Pronunciation (RP). We were told that the correct way to spell dialog was “dialogue”. Since English is a very conservative language (and culture) changes or language updates take longer to adopt. Such is not the case with the American language (i.e. US English), which in many ways is much more colorful, not to forget the amount of slang that it has. Slang inevitably influences the formal language over time.

Thus ariseth confusion!

Did you ever wonder why English is so consistently inconsistent when it comes to pronunciation and spelling? It simply is a very hard language to learn compared to many other languages, like e.g. Spanish (which has a much closer kinship between spelling and actual pronunciation). English truly takes a lifetime to learn. Not only because of its richness in terminology, but because of its conservativeness. Spelling is rarely or seldom updated to accommodate the way people actually speak. This growing mismatch leads to millions of young people across the globe having to learn a huge glossary of exceptions. Yes, in fact, I'd say much of the English language is “an exception”. I'm not saying that's bad. All I'm saying, it helps to be aware of it.

The interesting phenomenon of today's instant and immediate web crawling and indexing of information by search engines effectively picks up what we might call “the democratic web power of the written word”, something which we've probably never witnessed quite as powerfully in the past. It means that when a growing amount of people misspell or misuse a particular word or phrase, language experts and authorities now more easily may statistically spot and pick up those tendencies to consider if they should be accepted as formally right or wrong.

The question that remains to be answered: Will this web democracy influence language development? And if so, will this transparency speed it up or slow it down? Or maybe I'm mistaken altogether. You tell me...

PS! Did you find any misspelled words in this text? ...and are you sure? ;-)

1 comment:

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