Monday, 3 December 2012

Please write in English when you are writing in English

The bane of the English language in our times has been youth and the language of the SMS. I was horrified to get an email from a student who wanted information on certain rituals for her PhD work. No it was not the ritual she was enquiring about that horrified me, but the way she wrote her email in SMS lingo made my entrails squirm in repulsion.

It was incredible that a student could conceive of writing a letter of an academic nature and use abbreviated English to pose her questions. I know for a fact that my old English teacher would refuse to answer her question. And she would never leave the case at that either. My old English teacher was a stickler for grammatical correctness. She would definitely have considered that email blasphemous and highly detrimental for young children with their impressionable minds. She would have taken it upon herself to protect future generations by personally executing the offender and burying her in an anonymous mass grave.

Luckily for the PhD student, I am more mercifully inclined. I answered her mail and made it a point to spell each word out in full and not use their abbreviated forms. I hoped I was setting an example which she would catch on (I mean if she was a PhD student, then surely she would have the required intelligence to do as I did, wouldn't she?). No such luck. She replied me after a month with a curt note similar to the following monstrosity:

Thnx xo muj, opin 2 hv a gd tym n opin u r fyn thea.

Yea sure, I'm also opin you will learn to write in English as your research progresses. I didn't press send after I typed that. I deleted it and wrote something more polite. But I wish I had had the guts to tell her to pull up her socks and blooming get her k's and h's together. It looked like she had migrated from the nearest suburb in a great hurry and left them behind her. Each time I open my email I breathe a sigh of relief and send up thanks if I don't see her name in my inbox.

But surely life cannot go on like this. I mean there must be some way of penalising students and members of the public who torture others with short message service emails and messages. I want to know if educational institutions are accepting answer scripts written in SMS. I wonder if nightmares have come true for many teachers as they find assignments submitted like this:

AlXNDR d Grt Nvded Ndya N muj of Urop. Hi ws opin 2 hv a gd tym thea.
Bt hs kapten dyd n mani of hs hrses dyd on d way so hi cud nt achiv wat hi wntd.
In oder wrds hi cud nt hv a gud tym thea.

I truthfully want to resuscitate/resurrect my old English teacher and more of her ilk. I am thoroughly convinced that the English language has to be taught with an iron hand again. And it is not just grammatical abuse; the grammatical failings are the tell tale signs of something much darker in our society. It is a whole way of life and shows how slip shod we have become in our habits. We put in the minimum of effort and if we find short cuts, we use them unashamedly.

Language is a reflection of society. The highest periods in any society have also been the times when its language was at its most prolific. Greece in the 5th century. Elizabethan England and Marlow, Spencer and Shakespeare though the bard was a latecomer. Our oral narratives had some of the most beautiful metaphors but their time is past. We have ingested too much of the written word now to find any room for orature. And we sit by our computers and mobile phones and type out sms trash? Does that mean we are spiralling toward the end of our civilisation?

It is probably linguistically deductable that we are very close to Armageddon now. Our communication abilities show every indication of that. Two letters of the alphabet or even one have come to represent whole words. I infer from that that if we start seeing SMSes sent as punctuation marks, that is definitely our cue to evacuate planet earth or risk total decimation.

Originally published at

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