Letter to My Little One–44

Where has the good Old English Disappeared?January 14, 2007

Dear Little One,

As this weekend I had nothing much to do and as you, too, seemed to be busy so I had to find something to keep me occupied. What I did these two days was nothing less than a revelation to me. I went through my Orkut scrap book and refreshed my mind about all those young boys and girls who are in my friends list. As almost all of them have been or at present are my students so just for the sake of fun started evaluating their English. Now don’t criticize me for being a killjoy when it comes to such small pleasures of life as writing a scrap!

A very interesting finding came about. Perhaps serendipity is what it could be called:           

 My friends list has 105 members.           

All of them are in the age group of 18—24.           

 All of them are/being professionally qualified.           

 There are 217 scraps in all.

 Only seven scraps can be put under, relatively, correct English. 

I was shocked beyond doubt that out of the total 217 scraps in my Orkut scrap book only seven of my friends had used grammatically correct English and had not used any slang though there were errors like multiple exclamatory signs etc. This trend becomes criminal when you think that all these scraps were written by present/erstwhile students who knew well my commitment for grammatically correct English even when they had to indulge in informal conversation. What had gone wrong? Something was not going well so far the teaching and usage of English was concerned. I could have overlooked this problem had I not taught them all in my class.

So many reasons of this grammatically incorrect communication came to my mind. I thought of you and your little brother. Suddenly I was panicky as I knew you, too, to be on Orkut and I wanted to check your scrapbook. Somewhere inside me was a feeling of premonition that you may also not be doing the same thing. Sorry dear, but I did check almost all the scraps on your scrapbook and checked the ones written by you on your friends’ scrapbooks. My worst fears came true. You, too, had been using the same kind of English that I dreaded the present generation youth to be using. Next I wanted to check all our Gtalk communication. As you know it well that I chat only to you or to your brother or occasionally to some of my students on Gtalk. I checked all my communications and again found all of you to be using slang and grammatically incorrect English at times. And I had never stopped you though occasionally I had corrected your wrong spellings but never grammar and use of shortcuts or slang. Why had I been so criminally negligent? Perhaps it was to get more information out of the interaction that these errors were never pointed out. But this alone was not enough.The worst was when today chatting to you even I felt like using “abt” instead of “about” or “thnx” for “thanks”. I admit that that the problem is very serious. Its enormity increases when you say that very few persons write correct English these days and in your kind of job writing correct English is so very essential. Though for me writing correct English for all kind of jobs is a must.

This is a problem that needs corrective measure and as a teacher of English I have to find them real soon otherwise the time is no far off when I, too, may not start using it. This problem is kind of contagious.The topmost culprit is the culture of communication via chatting and the culprits are, no doubt, Gtalk, Orkut, Yahoo messenger, MSN etc. It is ironic that something that is introduced for the convenience of the mankind becomes a burden at times. This chatting culture, though increasing social connectivity, has acted as a death knell for writing grammatically correct English. A content analysis of the Orkut scraps written by educated men and women would substantiate what my worst fears are. In order to communicate to a large number of friends and to do it in the shortest possible time the use of slang is making its way in the writing style of the average youths. When they use the same writing style to write to their English teacher it shows how deep rooted the problem is.So the root cause for this is a culture developed by chat engines to facilitate connectivity. Why should anyone bother for the grammar rules and correct spellings when there is no one to stop them it from?

I am really feeling that this problem is going to be a very big one in the coming times when finding people using correct English would be a Herculean task. Please don’t tag me as a pessimist as my observations are based on experience. As I have already mentioned in many of my posts to you that what we start as a fad initially becomes a habit and gradually becomes a part of  our very being—such a part that the difference between the right and almost right seems delicate enough to be forgotten, albeit conveniently. Now convenient to what—to your vocabulary, spellings, grammatical structures and also, above all, to the trendy picture that you present. All these factors are playing havoc with the usage of good language especially English and that too for those who use English as a second language.The most interesting revelation came while reading scraps of people I knew written on the scrapbook of their own friends, obviously friends in their own age group. The kind of language that they write speaks about the same identity crisis that persons working in call centers must be having. And thinking about the impact of this identity crisis on their language proficiency really makes me worried.

I came to a very interesting generalization—the persons who were basically good in English Language had also adopted a new way to express themselves as per the latest trends and the people who were not good in English and would shy away even from uttering one single sentence in the public, were now doing the same, albeit behind a different anonymity that Net provides. Is it not a blessing for learning English as we, the teachers of English, believe that fluency should come before accuracy! So once they become fluent, they would have to take care of their accurate usage of language. Orkut is doing a great job to bring the non-users of English Language to the fold! But it humors me to read “wanna to” and “finda out” kind of English where neither the conventional way nor the trendy way of expression is used and the result is a kind of hybrid! But then I may be too old for using Orkut! By the way I wondered, “Are old people like me allowed to have an account on Orkut?” But a really democratic ground, a melting ground for persons with different language levels, different cultures, is what Orkut is.

On a second thought, may be In spite of my initial feelings of spoiling the English Language, it is doing wonders for spreading a different kind of English as well. This is a great service to the spread of English. Hope that one day people start using grammatically correct English even when writing a very informal comment. Amen!

I thought of you and the way you may be reading, day in and day out, atrociously incorrect English written by others and am worried about what impact it might have on you as well. I hope my worst fears about its negative impact just remain invalid fears! But to be on the safer side, try reading good English books so that you retain all that you have learnt in use of good language. Love

Ma

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3 thoughts on “Letter to My Little One–44

  1. Don’t you think you might be unwittingly discouraging people from posting comments to your blogs? 😉

    I understand your concerns about people writing and speaking bad english.

    However just think of what we are doing to hindi which is our mother tongue.
    What we are doing to English is not as bad in comparison.
    (Although it is not a justification for writing incorrect english)

    Just imagine hearing and reading hindi/urdu words in English sentences!

    Everybody would have an accent but I think we Indians speak and write much
    better than people from other countries where english is not their first language.
    Everyday I have to interact with people from different ethnicities and believe
    me, some of them are so bad in communicating in english that it is a nightmare to
    understand and ‘interpret’ their spoken and written english.

  2. Vineet

    Language as means of communication has developed over a period. Language is very much like living beings, constantly developing, adjusting to the requirements of society and so on. Needless to say it dies out as well, like Latin and Sanskrit. Both of these languages have (had) well laid grammar. Almost all Indian languages find their roots to Sanskrit, Sage Panini would find it horrifying, if he read the current literature.

    Any literary work whether fiction, scientific report or commercial work needs to be unambiguous and able to convey the thoughts of author verbatim to readers. Grammar ensures it. With proliferation of English to non English speaking countries several amendments to classical grammar have cropped in.
    I apologise, but what you are seeing is the birth of new language, not bound by geographical limits or conventional English grammar rules. This transformation is being witnessed by almost all the languages, courtesy technology.
    Normally, this transformation had been extremely slow due to poor communication facilities (it took full 7 days for British people to learn about President Abraham Lincoln’s murder, God forbid, you could see it live in your living room, had it occurred today, hats off to AAZ TAK and cousins) to be perceived by people in general except for a few ones who staunchly safeguard the legacy of Language (absolutely nothing wrong with it).
    I respect your concerns well, an unpleasant joke comes to my mind, a British Gentleman is distraught to hear well twisted English in Delhi and asks an Indian about it, who replies “we are doing to your mother tongue, what you had done to our mother land. Joke apart; I personally feel such abrupt and drastic changes over a short period of time are sure to raise concerns. Lets hope these changes enrich the language instead murdering it.

  3. rajeevbharol

    Well said Vineet.

    I would not be surprised if in future kids are taught ‘smileys’ and ‘winks’ in English language classes!

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