‘Hate peepz who typ lyk dis’? The Reason Why Text-Type May Be More Scholarly Than You Think.

Just a quick glance at the Facebook page or Twitter feed of today’s modern teenagers gives us an insight into today’s standard of English literacy. “Y do teenz lyk 2 typ lyk dis”? Alas, I do not think the elder generations will ever really understand the trend.

Maybe “dis way of writin” could actually be considered more scholarly than we care to believe. Perhaps the English language is merely reverting back to Old English or Frisian! Fashions do, after all, repeat themselves, and maybe the same is beginning to happen with regards the English language.

Just a moment ago, I was reading an old book that I stumbled across: ‘The Cambridge History of the English Language: (Vol 1): the Beginnings to 1066’ by Richard M. Hogg, and was reminded how Frisian, a West Germanic language spoken in the province of Friesland, Netherlands, and parts of northern Germany, is the closest relative of English. In fact, Frisia was once a powerful and independent kingdom from the c.7th century, but lost its independence by the 15th century.

To summarise, Old English and Frisian were, at one time, mutually intelligible. After the Battle of Hastings, English became influenced by Norman French, whilst Frisian became influenced more by the Dutch language. Frisian is similar to English in that both languages are rich in vowels, diphthongs and triphthong; but unlike Germanic languages, have nasal vowels, similar to Afrikaans. The Frisian “r” is similar to the English alveolar “r”, as opposed to an uvular sound in German or Dutch.

An extract from ‘Beowulf’, a poem written in Old English.

I was interested to hear the languages spoken, and a search on YouTube led me to a rather interesting documentary presented by Eddie Izzard, that was previously part of a series called ‘Mongrel Nation’, once featured on The Discovery Channel. In one of episode, Eddie Izzard learnt a few Old English phrases, and subsequently took a trip to Friesland to meet a local Frisian-speaking farmer. Interestingly, Izzard asked the farmer if he could buy a cow, speaking in Old English, and the farmer understood most of the conversation. An excerpt from the series can be found here.

To understand my observation about teenagers’ “text talk” being similar to Old English or Frisian, just observe the following example:

Frisian: Ik wolde net lyk it te rein oer de neist wyk.
English: I would not like it to rain over the next week.

Notice any similarities there? (“lyk” = “like”, etc.)

Also, notice how in spoken English, certain regional dialect tends to be a little sloppy by dropping letters from the ends of words. Thus, observe the following:

Frisian: Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk
English: Butter, bread and green cheese is good English and good Frisian

I am sure if teenagers realised that their style of writing/speaking  is scholarly enough to be comparable to Old English or Frisian, the latest trend of “text talk” would soon appear less “cool”, and perhaps we might gradually see it begin to fizzle out.

I am sure that would come as a relief to some of us.

If the English language is reverting back to Old English, perhaps Old English fashion will also repeat itself? Who reckons we’ll be seeing this example of 11th century “chic” worn by today’s teenagers…? … Maybe not.

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Fashion Trumps Functionality

Last week, I came across a news article in the Huffington Post about the All Round Women’s Gymnastics Olympics Champion, Gabby Douglas. Apparently there has been some criticism about her hair!

Such articles really make one question the mentality of modern society. Not only is Douglas the first American female to win the title, but she is also the first African-American Olympic gymnast. Despite this wonderful historical achievement, it would appear that society places greater importance on fashion and beauty.

 

What is particularly strange, is that Douglas wears her hair in the exact same style as all the other gymnasts, so what is there to debate?

Perhaps there are a number of people who are (a) jealous (b) resent that a black athlete is the first to become the US ladies gymnastics champion in a predominantly Caucasian or Asian sport, and (c) there is perhaps some kind of concealed racism behind it. Or, perhaps the media are so obsessed with how women look, that they choose to ignore a person’s achievements? However, as long as the media have a market to sell stories to, they will continue to sell on demand. Should we perhaps, then, blame the public? For as long as the public buy into fashion trends, the media will focus on selling features based on fashion.

Gymnasts, no matter what their colour, nationality, etc., need to wear their hair off their face, otherwise it will fall into their eyes, and affect their performance. Yet, it would appear that obsession with beauty has made the public ignorant to the importance of functionality over fashion. The same could be said about physique. An athlete will develop a certain physique as a result of specialised training, so that they have the correct muscle formation for their particular sport. A marathon runner will naturally develop a very slender physique, which they need in order to be light enough to move swiftly and use less energy. A female weightlifter will need to be more “top-heavy”, just like a man, in order to have the strength to lift heavy weights. Yet, society will judge those athletes for looking emaciated or too masculine, respectively.

The sooner people stopped judging upon appearances and appreciated a person for their minds, personality, and achievements, the better. Alas, a preoccupation with beauty has been a feature of society for many centuries (one need only take a look at the numerous great works of art, and painted portraits that have been painted throughout history), and thus is unlikely to change any time soon.