Since the beginning of September I have been taking a course at the local community college called Editing for Office Communication II, so I am very aware of grammar mistakes and typographical errors. The course I am enrolled in is intended to prepare students for careers in the medical administrative field, and any documents created in future jobs must stand up to legal scrutiny, so it is always necessary to shift mental gears from one of upper class, excruciatingly correct, grammatically flawless English and into one of lower class, everyday, more colloquial and friendly English. Alas, though, I guess I am a hopeless old spinster over 40, because I never will type or speak in texting language.
At the beginning of the semester, the professor told us that this class would not be as easy as we might have thought it would be, because we are all so used to Facebook, texting back and forth, e-mail, and all of the other shortcuts of the digital age. I remember thinking, “Wow, she’s right. None of us really know what the rules of grammar really are.” I personally have been reading since the age of 6, and seem to be blessed in the verbal ability department, but there have been quite a few times that I couldn’t rest on those laurels and had to study like any other normal college student. It is very disheartening, therefore, to see younger students walking around the campus with cell phones and either talking or texting, and to know that they are using an abbreviated form of the English language. I try not to think about what the future generations will be like–it gets too depressing when I start to wonder if they will be capable of communicating with anyone but each other.
Recently I was on Interstate 95 with a friend, and we passed a digital sign (that’s another new thing that hasn’t been in RI as long as the cell phone has, but is a literal sign of things to come ) that stated that Rhode Island had passed a law banning text messaging while driving. My friend remarked that it was a shame that the State government had to resort to that, but there have been some serious car accidents and even a few fatalities because the driver was busy texting. It is truly scary to think about the repercussions of those little technological beasties called cell phones.
Back in October, I had a doctor’s appointment, and while I was in the waiting room I became absorbed in an article on the decline of elegant penmanship. Why do the medical people always call you to come in when you just get into a really good article? Anyhow, I was reading about how 100 years ago, it was considered a matter of respect to send personal correspondence, and people took pride in refining their penmanship. Often signatures at the end of letters were very elaborate, with elegant flourishes, and the entire letter would have been painstakingly written by hand with a quill pen and a bottle of ink. Young people and students worked very carefully on their lettering and developed their own style. Grammar was also a matter of respect for the other party and of pride to the writer of the correspondence. In the article I was reading, the author says that the average college student of modern times has the penmanship of an 8th grader–all fat letters: circles or hearts over the “i”‘s and big round “o”‘s, and I know from taking other classes at the community college that the professors always have to specify, when they assign a major paper to be written, that it should be typed, not scrawled onto notebook paper, and that it would be wise to use word processing software with spell-check capabilities so he or she does not have to attempt to wade through a pile of messy notes full of typos and try to make sense of them.
I fear that texting is indeed the final nail in the coffin of the art of using the English language. I can only do my part to make a stand, and try to set a good example of what good writing ought to look like, and keep learning more while the information is still available. Someday that may not even be out there.