Amglish In, Like, Ten Easy Less

Arthur E. Rowse

Part 7

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Phone Frenzies.

The younger you are, the more likely you will spend nearly all your waking hours talking to or texting friends and acquaintances. It is not unusual now for high school students to send or receive 3,000 messages a month, the equivalent of 100 per day.

One fourteen-year-old girl in Redwood City, California, reportedly sends and receives about 27,000 texts a month, nearly 1,000 a day.13 She boasts that she can text one friend while talking to another on the phone, no doubt while doing her homework.

If a youngster is not part of a family phone plan, the costs can mount up rapidly. The parents of one high school girl in the Washington, D.C., area wound up with a monthas phone bill of nearly a thousand dollars before they realized they could save a bundle on a family plan.

Thumbs Up for a Champion Texter.

Whoas the best texter in the world? In the United States?

n.o.body really knows, but fifteen-year-old Kate Moore of Iowa beat out twenty other contestants in the U.S. National Texting Championship in June 2009 by sending 14,000 messages a month, according to Discover magazine.14 She won $50,000, and she did it while blindfoldeda"like the other contestants.

The magazineas news release unfairly wondered awhether she was sacrificing human contact and, possibly, communication skills, all for the sake of her glowing cell phone screen.a Of course, the winner denied the accusation and maintained that she, like, keeps good grades and is otherwise normal. She said texting helps her prepare for exams because it can help her look back at things to review. So there, editor.

A Health Warning.

A decade ago, the cell phone world was abuzz with fears that excessive use could cause brain cancer. Evidence was scattered and inconclusive since it was based on individual cases. So cell phone makers and doctors got together for a conclusive study designed to settle the question, with 13,000 partic.i.p.ants involved.

When the results were announced in May 2010, they showed that those who conducted the study should have telephoned each other more. The main finding was inconclusive. As Elisabeth Cardis, the study leader in Barcelona, explained, aThis was a very complex study, and results were very difficult to interpret because of a number of methodological issues.a Sort of like a giant busy signal among the study partic.i.p.ants.

But what about the busy digit that does all the texting? Sending so many text messages every day can make even a tough thumb rather sore. Names for the problem include RSS (repet.i.tive stress syndrome), aBlackberry Thumb,a and ateentexting tendonitis.a The cure? Outside of quitting or reducing phone time, both obvious nonstarters, the best treatment, according to C. Forrest McDowell, Ph.D., is Solomonas Seal, an herbal plant with tiny white flowers that is also said to cure other ailments. However, as everyone knows, digital diarrhea is incurable, especially among the young.

The Pressure to Innovate.

Another major issue is the necessity that most texting be done with the letters and numbers on the telephone dial. Since there are three or four letters on eight of the numbered b.u.t.tons, it means that each number must be touched one or more times to indicate which letter or number is intended by the caller.

For example, if you want to tell a good friend to aget lost,a you must hit the number 4 once, the number 3 twice, and the number 8 once merely to send the word ageta; then follow the same procedure for the second word. Phones like Googleas Android and Appleas iPhone make texting slightly less difficult with their full but miniature keyboards.

Call Her Doctor of Texting.

Letas all sing praises for Dr. Caroline Tagg for parlaying her craze for txtg into a doctorate in the subject at Birmingham U.15 She endured some 11,000 text messages containing 190,000 wordsa"not much for a teenagera"sent by 235 people before finding that people text in the same way they speak, using unnecessary words and fuzzy grammar. Her 80,000-word thesis concluded that there is more to texting than just abbreviations.

In a comment to the press, she dipped into a little informal English: aPeople use playful manipulation and metaphors. It is a playful language. Not only are they quite creative, it is also quite expressive.a Will the next doctorate at BU be in Amglish?

In order to keep within these tight parameters, many users have devised an elaborate array of abbreviations, acronyms, emoticons, numbers, and codes to shorten thoughts to fit. aLove youa comes out as luv u in English, tq for te quier in Spanish, and ta for ti amo in Italian.

Such fractionalized lingo inspired author Norman Silver to turn poetical: In the old old days.

B4 there were mobile fones.

How cud a boy eva meet A person of the oppsite gender & even if they cud get acquainted Wivout a mobile fone.

How cud they

Each uvver up16.

A sample IM might say aAFAICT YIM is NBD but it left me ROFL with TMI BTW Im near a POP so GBFN ILU.a Translation: aAs far as I can tell, your instant message is no big deal, but it left me rolling on the floor laughing with too much info. By the way, Iam near a parent on the prowl, so goodbye for now. I love you.a The obvious response: aILU2.a Some of the better-known acronyms, abbreviations, and shorteners are going oral. It is increasingly common to hear even a geezer respond to a joke by spelling out the letters L-O-L or O-M-G, while younger people often combine the first acronym into one word, which is now creeping into some dictionaries and books.

The Scandal Diversion.

With computerized communication becoming so intimate, it is only natural that it might sometimes become a personal embarra.s.sment. After the news about Tiger Woodsa auto accident in 2009, rumors of his extramarital exploits began to leak out via voice messages. Soon there were at least twelve women claiming to have privately entertained the much-admired golf star. He eventually admitted getting off course.

Less than a year afterward, the cell phone network went viral again when another big sports star, Brett Favre, the off-and-on-again quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, sent nude photographs of himself by phone to a beauty queen also employed by the Vikings. The transmissions that were leaked to the media didnat end his career, but they came close. The two celebrated cases hinted at what many less prominent people may be doing with their own phones for kicks.

Merchants on Mobiles.

It is inevitable that wherever there is an efficient communications system, there will be advertisers and promoters to take advantage of it. And as long as there is a possible sale, there will be someone to help facilitate it.

One major facilitator is MotionPoint Corporation. It claims that it can provide websites covering as much as 83 percent of the 2 billion phones connected to the Internet. It lists the top ten international languages in order starting with English, followed by Chinese, Spanish, j.a.panese, Portuguese, German, Arabic, French, Russian, and Korean.

As a result, customers of Papa Johnas, for example, can place their order by mobile phone all over the world. So if you are flying to Bahrain and you need a pizza when you arrive, you can call ahead and have your order placed in Arabica"or English. MotionPoint is expanding its Spanish mobile service to other industries such as health care, insurance, and banking. For a company like Best Buy, the global approach includes text messaging, microsites, and apps in Spanish.17 The Ultimate Translator?

If you are a tourist in a foreign country, you can throw away your tourist guide and pocket dictionary. Thatas what the ads might soon say about free and low-priced apps for smart phones that automatically translate nearly two dozen languages.

All you need to do is speak into the phone, and your words will be instantly turned into the language of your choice on the screen, which you can then show to the person with whom you are speaking. Other apps can actually speak foreign languages by turning your own words into the language of your choice.

But there are a few bugs that might be expected with such new technology. One is that the translation can be too rapid for comprehension. Another is that the first two pioneer phones, Android and iPhone, require a network connection, which can lead to some big charges. Then, of course, there is the big chance that the meaning will not be clear.

There are similar programs for personal computers. Google is trying to develop a technology that will work as an instant oral translator. But there is no way that any of these devices can achieve perfection because of the subtle differences in meaning that can occur in all languages.

In the absence of a perfect translator, Amglish stands ready to help. Itas far from perfect, but it can get the job done.

From Snail Mail to E-Mail.

No computer function has been more effective in promoting Amglish in recent years than e-mail. This freewheeling system of communicating is also ideal for experimenting with language. Its versatility allows users not only to send and receive messages instantly but to add pictures and doc.u.ments almost without limit.

In less than two decades of widespread use, e-mail has obliterated more outmoded language rules than all the Bushes and Palins combined. It has also left the U.S. Postal Serviceas asnail maila with even larger deficits because of the changes e-mail has made in personal communications.

Perhaps its most significant accomplishment has been to turn traditional patterns of personal correspondence upside down. The art of letter writing used to be taught in school, but no course is necessary to learn how to communicate via e-mail. All you need to know is how to use the computer keyboard and connect it to the Internet.

This type of e-freedom is so exhilarating that many users disregard all they ever learned about writinga"or common courtesy. In the typical e-mail, there are few, if any, capital letters, punctuation marks, or similar impediments to even informal writing. In such an atmosphere, many people act as if they can let it all hang out. They donat realize that everything they write is etched permanently on the hard drive and can be resurrected later.

The Hirschfeld Virus.

Such e-mail practices brought a mock warning from Washington Post writer Bob Hirschfeld, when he wrote that an attack of the deadly Strunkenwhite virus would automatically return e-mails to senders if they committed any grammatical or spelling errors. He added, aThe virus is causing something akin to panic throughout corporate America.a18 Actually, there was no panic in the business world because everyone knows what to expect with e-mail. Taking liberties with spelling and grammar are no longer considered abnormal or surprising. Indeed, many e-mailers may no longer be able to tell what a grammatical or spelling error looks like.

A bigger problem for most people is spam, including the unwanted offers from Nigerians to make you rich quick if you will only send them your PIN numbers and bank account pa.s.swords. A further downside is what might be called e-mail fatigue, the increasing habit of not immediately responding to messages and then losing sight of them for good on the screen.

What makes e-mailing and texting such perfect laboratories for developing new language is not only their sense of freedom from rules but the virtual absence of editing. This can lead naturally to misunderstandings, but they pale in comparison to the challenge of finding meaning in a collection of jumbled letters, numbers, and s.p.a.ces.

The language of chat rooms is often even more informal and disjointed than in e-mail. Thatas because partic.i.p.ants donat usually know each other except through the Internet and because of the speed with which messages are exchanged. When youare up to such speed, who needs to worry about syntax and similar details?

A New Study Area?

Are all of these lowercase letters, missing periods, misspellings, casual grammar, and other departures from formal English signs of a new type of language being formed?

The answer is yes, and David Crystal is already on the case with a 2011 book ent.i.tled Internet Linguistics: A Student Guide. It focuses on text messaging, e-mailing, chat groups, virtual worlds, and the World Wide Web as new areas of study for linguists.

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The book describes the growing use of these services by teachers for giving a.s.signments, conducting cla.s.sroom discussions, providing student access to libraries from off campus, and presenting guest speakers via Skype, the online international phone service. The tech term for all this is acomputer-mediated communication,a or CMC.

Toward a World Tongue.

Throughout modern world history, languages followed explorers and traders. The linguistic seeds especially helped spread Spanish, English, French, Dutch, Chinese, and Portuguese to their colonies.

But these trading centers generally remained isolated linguistically from each other, despite some interactions in pidgin dialects. No one country or language dominated the world.

For several centuries, French was considered the lingua franca, the language of international diplomacy. But that began to change at the end of World War I when the Versailles Peace Treaty was written in both French and English, largely because of the huge contribution to victory provided by Britain and the United States.

Since World War II, American English has been the common language for almost every international activity, whether it be diplomacy, trade, advertising, technology, music, film, broadcasting, science, navigation, travel, or sports.

Signs of Unity.

A major side effect of the war was a worldwide quest for some way to avoid another world war. With American leadership, the United Nations was born in 1945, the same year the war ended.

Since then, the UN has grown in member states from only a few dozen to nearly two hundred, including nearly every sovereign state in the world. So has the number and scope of its activities. The UN has also inspired the growth of numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for many international purposes. They include groups promoting trade, preventing hunger, improving general health, promoting education, and stamping out disease.

The very existence of so many international organizations and programs has added pressure for a single language that would allow more efficient communication, not only for the UN and its satellite arms, but also among nations. Although the UN has six official languages, English has dominated open discussions and official reports from the start.

The ultimate test of a language is its power to absorb the inflections, dialects, accents, and other irregularities that go with the territory. The attraction of English perhaps lies more in its informal state than its formal one. After all, it is easier to learn a few fundamentals that allow more people to communicate on a basic level. This may be the secret to why English seems so adaptable and flexible. Since the advent of the computer, it has also been more available than any other language.

Terror Groups Choose English.

Even international terrorists have joined the parade. Allies of Osama bin Laden have learned to send messages in English and have apparently enticed a number of recruits in English via the Internet. One example is Nidal Ha.s.san, who killed thirteen people at Fort Hood after becoming friendly by computer with Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian-born cleric who was close to bin Laden before the latter was killed.

Al-Qaeda has even launched an online magazine in English called Inspire.25 The first edition was somewhat amateurish, with instructions for making aa bomb in the kitchen of your mom,a an article on aMujahedeen 101,a and a lesson in sending and receiving encrypted messages.

Apparently a virus interrupted most of the pages. Reporter Jeremy W. Peters wrote that the problem acould have been the work of hackers, possibly working for the United States government.a English has become the chief foreign language taught in the schools of more than one hundred countries, though the quality varies considerably from nation to nation and from cla.s.sroom to cla.s.sroom. English is even replacing French in North African countries. In Tunisia, where a dictator was toppled in early 2011, the government is now requiring it in primary schools.

Did Jesus Speak English?

Although the above question may sound ridiculous, it keeps popping up in real American places like Texas.

Persistent reports indicate that a feisty female governor of that state named aMaa (for Miriam A.) Ferguson once declared, aIf the Kingas English was good enough for Jesus Christ, itas good enough for the children of Texas.a She was reportedly facing pressure to allow Spanish to be taught in state schools in the 1920s.

Frequent repet.i.tion has kept the concept alive.

In China, each child is required to take English for the first nine years of school. But the quality of teaching varies considerably, largely because so many teachers are former students who were never exposed to the authentic sounds, accents, and mannerisms, which differ so much from Mandarin, the national language of China. j.a.pan begins English lessons at five years of age. Even Mongolia has plans to be bilingual in English.

Other Languages Losing Status.

While interest in learning English continues to expand, interest in studying foreign languages has been waning and wavering in the two major bases of English, Britain and the United States.

The contrast appears greater in the island nation, according to a study by the European Commission in 2005. It said that only 30 percent of Britons could converse in any foreign language, while only 10 percent spoke a language other than English at home. The results lent support to the popular view of the Englishman abroad who thinks he can be understood by raising his voice and repeating himself.

In response to criticism, the British government issued a study the next year ordering that foreign language study be required up to age fourteen, beginning in 2010. But it disappointed many educators and business leaders by leaving in place an earlier decision that no language study be required after that age.

In the United States, a 2010 survey of 3,200 public schools by the Center for Applied Linguistics showed that thousands of schools had stopped teaching foreign languages, mostly because of the economic recession. Hardest hit were traditional courses in French, German, and Russian, while courses in Chinese and Arabic were growing the fastest. Spanish, the most popular foreign language, was found in 93 percent of middle and high schools, largely because of the huge influx of Latino immigrants in recent decades.

The 465,000-student State University of New York (SUNY) decided in 2010 to end all majors in French, Italian, Russian, and the cla.s.sics, Latin and Greek. Dozens of other universities are doing the same.

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