Ethnographer.com

28Dec/110

Ruining the English Language (Again!)

In every language we've ever known, there are speakers invested in various theories of the existential threats to its 'preservation.' Sam Biddle uncorks a cranky classic of the type at Gizmodo today, training his anxiety on the hashtag (or pound sign, #) as it's used on Twitter, Facebook, and increasingly elsewhere.  How do you know when you're reading a bit of language ideology?  You'll find these arguments:

  1. It's usually young people who are at fault.
  2. Some prior--usually highly logical or efficient--use of a form is being undermined:  "It's not doing what it's meant to" and  "it's misused"
  3. Whatever the form is, it's redundant and unnecessary.  "Why didn't they just express the things they hashtagged?"
  4. It is lowbrow and uncreative and stupid:   "it's dragging our tongues down"  and "we're all a bit dumber and a lot more confused."
  5. The form is not even language.  It's paralanguage.   It's a mere emoticon.  (Or is it a "verbal crutch?")

At the end of a piece like this, you're usually at a loss to explain just how "the English language" is worse off because of this little stylistic blip in its history, but you're pretty sure the author's right.  On closer inspection, you can observe that the author has usually deployed the form without difficulty in communicating information about it.  (See his #FML sign-off, an effective ironic instance of the form.)  Anyway, these are always entertaining to read, whatever language or linguistic genre they're concerned with, but you'll generally save yourself a great deal of heartache if you decline to treat them as personal style guides or ammunition for the reprimand of others.

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